Even before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person work and fundamentally altered the dynamic of in-person meetings, many of my administrative functions occurred virtually. Every week, I would have operations calls and strategy meetings via phone and either Zoom, WebEx, or Microsoft Teams. Of course, the Covid pandemic accelerated the change to complete virtual work, and the business world continues to try to adapt to this change.
I just attended our first in-person Medical Director Summit for our medical group in October. It had been more than three years since we came together as a medical group in person. It was a truly magical experience. No matter how many times I interact with colleagues virtually, it is simply not the same as meeting them in person; giving them a hug; smiling in their face; and interacting with them in the flesh. It was so good to see my colleagues from across the country and network and learn together with them in person. No screen could substitute that personal interaction.
Interacting with other people on a screen is deficient in almost every way. It is nearly impossible to read body language, true tone of voice, and personability through a screen. It is very difficult to garner trust between individuals through a screen. When we implemented a telemedicine program, we struggled early on to build trust between the physicians on one end of the screen, and the nurses on the other end. It was only when I visited on-site that this process of trust was able to develop. The few hours I spent interacting with the on-site clinical team were truly invaluable, even though I interacted with them multiple times virtually in the past.
This speaks greatly about the nature of us as human beings. We are nothing if not social creatures. The disruptions in social gatherings, while I still understand why we did that early on in the pandemic, was truly disruptive to our nature as human beings. We need to be together as families, colleagues, communities, and peoples. It is in our very DNA.
What’s more, I think this also has to do with our spiritual natures. I believe each of us is infused with the spark of the Divine (all the while not having any sort of Divinity whatsoever). It was breathed into us when we came into being. Those sparks grow into burning flames when brought together, and those flames give off light and warmth and healing. That is further why it is so fulfilling to get together with friends and family.
I do not criticize the decision to shut down everything and social distance early on in the pandemic. We had no idea what this virus was, or what it was capable of doing. We did the best we could with the information we had at the time. Looking back, whether continued lockdown had a net positive effect is debatable, and we should study every aspect of those decisions. That way, we know better, when the next in evitable pandemic strikes us.
In addition, sometimes, there is no other choice but to interact with someone on a screen: think a critical access hospital that has no Neurology or Critical Care and can only get this via Telemedicine. The pandemic has caused Telemedicine to grow exponentially, and it is going to be, in my estimation, a permanent fixture of clinical care in the future. One hopes and prays that policymakers do not get in the way of this inevitable trend. It is not a substitute for a real-live bedside clinician, but sometimes a clinician on a screen is better than no clinician at all.
That said, my experience during our Summit taught me one unshakable truth: a screen is absolutely no substitute for the real thing. We were made to be together.