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Technology at the center of the Great Debate

(l-r) Omar Hussain, MD, Leon Morgenstern, MD, and Matthew Singer, MD, pose after the debate.

A prevailing argument that computers weaken MD-patient relations

It was standing room only at the Ninth Annual Dr. Leon Morgenstern Great Debates in Clinical Medicine Resident Competition on Thursday morning. This year's debate focused on the influence of technology on the traditional doctor-patient relationship. Omar Hussain, MD, won over both the judges and the keypad voting audience.

Matthew Singer, MD, who took the opposing position, argued that technology strengthens the patient-doctor bond. In the spirit of comradeship and spirited debate for which this event is noted, Singer applauded as the winner was announced. He promptly shook Hussain's hand.

Hussain, at right, argued that even as technology has improved the practice of medicine, it has eroded the human element of the doctor-patient relationship. "Communication is becoming a lost art," he said.

Physicians who once looked first at the patient in the exam room now look first at a computer screen. This reliance on computerized data and records has driven a technological wedge between the doctor and the human being sitting in front of him or her, he argued.

He also pointed to social media as eroding patient privacy, and cited examples of confidential data and details being revealed via Facebook posts and photos, and physician's own blogs.

Technology was everywhere during the debate which, despite the serious and scholarly topic, was marked by frequent humor.

Notwithstanding a computer glitch (which may have been a harbinger of the result of the debate), the program played out within the one-hour time restriction.

The debaters used their computer presentations to play out their good-natured rivalry. Singer, at right, launched his pro-tech stance with a black-and-white slide of the horse and buggy he suggested Hussain had driven to the hospital. During his rebuttal, Singer used a Facebook photo of Hussain's 10-week-old son, lying in his crib with his tiny hand on a computer's touch pad, to point out the irony of his fellow resident's anti-tech argument.

Hussain, for his part, laughed as he silenced the pager that interrupted his opening arguments.

"Excuse me – let me silence this nuisance," Hussain said, to laughter and applause.

The debates are held in honor of Leon Morgenstern, MD, Emeritus Chair of the Department of Surgery. Morgenstern served as a judge, and presented signed copies of cherished books to each of the competitors following the debate.

The other judges were Troy Elander, MD, president of the Los Angeles County Medical Association; Noel Bairey Merz, MD, director of the Women's Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute as well as the Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiac Center; Darren Dworkin, senior vice president and chief information officer for Cedars-Sinai; and Rabbi Jason Weiner, Cedars-Sinai's senior rabbi and manager of the Spiritual Care Department.

Next year's debate will convene on Thursday, April 25, 2013.