Healthcare’s Digital Natives

Whether you read a medical journal, a magazine, or get news delivered to your email or Twitter feeds you will notice that there is a lot of talk about the use of technology in healthcare.

On a daily basis, I get pulled or tagged in multiple conversations online about the use of electronic medical records, digital health, mHealth and the lack of interoperability.

I get to have conversations with physicians and administrators from both academic medical centers, integrated delivery networks, and community hospitals.

I get to hear the good, the bad, and the stories on the struggle of implementation, culture change, and other issues surrounding the transition into the electronic world.

My hypothesis is that most physicians and administrators struggle because they are not the “digital native” within healthcare.

The term digital native was coined by Marc Prensky in his 2001 article entitled: “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” His observation was simple:

“…children raised in a digital, media-saturated world, require a media-rich learning environment to hold their attention, and Prensky dubbed these children “digital natives”.

When I apply this concept to healthcare, the most natural “digital natives” would be those physicians and administrators that reside in radiology and radiation oncology.

While x-rays have been around since 1895, the invention of computed tomography is a more recent development. One that is about 45 years old. Same holds true for MRI. Other imaging technologies such as hybrid imaging like PET-CT are less than 30 years old.

The world of radiology has adopted new technologies quickly.

Radiologists have taken the time to understand the clinical applications, the impact to diagnostic medicine, and the benefit(s) to the care of patients.

In fact, radiologists were the first within the healthcare system to drive mass adoption and successful implementation of electronic medical records with HIS/RIS and Picture Archived Computer Systems, or PACS.

Yet in the world of healthcare, radiologists are the last physicians that an EMR/EHR implementation team considers to partner with for success.

Instead, healthcare IT teams recruit the “digital immigrants” to be the champions to drive adoption of new technology in healthcare.

The “digital immigrants” of healthcare refer to the other “ologists”.

Think of the neurologist, nephrologist, cardiologist, oncologist, surgeons, or primary care physicians.

While all of these physicians are extremely smart and knowledgeable, the majority of their daily work doesn’t occur in the digital world.

Healthcare is a business that thrives on sharing best practices.

The best practice for mapping out a new digital world, creating the roadmap, and generating directions to arrive at the right destination in healthcare has been done multiple times by radiologists.

As healthcare continues to change, evolve, and explore uncharted roads into the digital ecosystem we need to consider creating a treaty and allowing the digital natives in radiology to help guide us to the new world.

A world where care is delivered at the N of 1.

As always you can feel free to email me at or follow me on Twitter @cancergeek



One response to “Healthcare’s Digital Natives

  1. One issue here is that the entire concept of the digital native has been debunked even by Prensky himself. Sadly the idea resonates and so it keeps getting picked up. What’s the concept of residents and visitors five White and Le Corfu provides a more useful framework for comparison.

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