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Stanford University School of Medicine

Abraham Verghese reflects on the importance of listening and the role of technology in medicine

It's not every day you encounter a storyteller who likes to listen more than talk, but Abraham Verghese, MD, is not your average storyteller.

Verghese, the author of two memoirs and the bestselling novel Cutting for Stone, is also a physician and educator who champions listening.

Hearing the patient's story is essential to the patient-physician relationship and it's an important first part of the bedside exam, Verghese said in a story that details his recent talk at the American Hospital Association Leadership Summit in San Diego.

Technology can enhance the patient experience when it's used thoughtfully, Verghese explained but, "there's a danger that we can lose sight of the patient, and technology becomes technology for its own sake.”

Technology can negatively affect physicians too, Verghese said, calling labor intensive electronic health records a "4,000-click-a-day problem," that can lead to depression and burnout among physicians and health care providers.

Finding the right balance between listening and technology in the patient-physician relationship takes some finesse, he admitted, and he emphasized that it's important to realize there’s an art to conducting a bedside exam. Verghese explained:

If you do [a poor job] and stick your stethoscope on the paper gown or are a meaningless part of their day, they’re on to you — they know that they’ve been shortchanged...

Rituals [like the bedside exam] are all about a transformative experience, and it's up to the physician to achieve that transformation.

Previously: Stanford physician-author Abraham Verghese to receive National Humanities Medal“I carry your heart”: Abraham Verghese on the doctor-patient relationship and Physician-writer Abraham Verghese on ritual, technology and medical training
Photo by Jason Henry

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