Balancing Technology and Personal Interaction in Patient Care

By: Meghan Sullivan, EKU paramedic student

We live in the digital age and while technological advances have improved our tools and revolutionized how we deliver care, it is critical— for both our own professional growth and patient outcomes— that we adopt and practice good face-to-face interaction skills. At a certain point, our focus must not be on our technology but on our work as a team and the patient.

While some instructors understand this concept, it may be a difficult one to portray to students and individuals who are overly focused on the technological aspect of the profession. A study from George Mason University (Morella, 2016) found that talking and interacting face-to-face provided a greater sense of unity in group settings. They found that the more time spent in a face-to-face situation, the greater the amount of unity that was assigned to the project.

Unity and working together to provide the best possible care in stressful situations are vital components of a good EMS team. When starting a new job or shift, there is a different dynamic than one might be used to. Different crews move with different patterns, and it takes time as well as social interaction to build these bonds. If you spend all available moments stuck in a tablet, or on your phone, it will be difficult to make this connection and increase unity between team members.

Patients benefit from thoughtful interaction as much as our working relationships do. The best advice I have ever been given was from a paramedic I was fortunate to train with. “Nothing is ever straight from the textbook, and if it is, you missed something.” At first, I thought he meant another injury, illness, or more information, but I learned it was so much more. If you behave as if the people in your care are the mannequins in class, you miss the chance to build a connection with them. You lose the opportunity of instilling passion in a small child, comfort in a widow, and safety after a tragedy.

Studies have shown that in face-to-face conversation, subjects would mimic head nods and body movements (Higo, et al, 2014). Body language provides reassurance or it can show disinterest or deceit. A smiling face calms nerves, an appropriate touch on the back is soothing, eye contact conveys confidence and empathy. These emotions cannot, easily, be conveyed through a piece of technology. They are skills and actions we acquire from engaging in regular human interaction. We train in class to know what to do in scenarios, but the reactions of our patients may differ. I would argue it is our job to notice the emotional changes in our patients and bring them to a more positive and calm manner by the time they depart our care. These skills do not come in a box and cannot be looked up on Google or WebMD.

We are a profession built on trust. Trust to enter a home, trust to care for someone’s loved one, trust we will help to the best of our ability. Personal connections are critical to building and maintaining that trust. And that trust is as important to care delivery, patient outcomes and our own professional growth as the technology we use in tandem with it.


Morella, M. (2016). 23. Try Talking for a Change. U.S. News & World Report, 147(11), 48-51.

Higo, N., Ogawa, K., Minemura, J., Xu, B., Nozawa, T., Ogata, T., & ... Miyake, Y. (2014). Interpersonal Similarity between Body Movements in Face-To-Face Communication in Daily Life. Plos ONE, 9(7), 1-10. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102019

Published on June 27, 2018