A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to listen to an excellent presentation given by Dr. Brian Hodges from the University Health Network.  His talk provided a thought provoking exploration into the types of competencies health care practitioners will need in the not so distant future – and these competencies are quite different than the ones we currently focus on obtaining and maintaining.  As technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to take over an ever-increasing portion of the tasks that RTs now perform manually – will there be a role for us in the future?  We already have Veebot, the robot phlebotomist that can do a venous blood draw more safely and accurately than any human, and I don’t think that an “ABG-bot” is too hard to imagine. Can AI be used to initiate, manage and discontinue ventilation even better than the most experienced ICU RT ? You bet it can – and it will happen much sooner than you might think. If that’s so, will the competencies that RT’s currently possess even be needed in the healthcare system of the future?

Dr. Hodges proposes that yes – healthcare providers like RTs will absolutely play a vital role in the hospitals, homes and clinics of the future, but that they will need much less of some their current competencies and much more of others that perhaps don’t get sufficient emphasis right now.  Competence is defined as the possession of certain knowledge, skills and abilities, and although knowledge and skills are pretty clear, I have always found “abilities” a bit hard to pin down. The way I understand it is that knowledge and skills are something that we learn – something that can be easily taught, while abilities are those more innate characteristics like judgment, compassion and empathy.  The central point of Dr. Hodges’ presentation was that we will not be able to match the capacity that AI will have for storing knowledge and performing skills. However, our ability to prioritize patient’s care preferences and to help them navigate the often frightening and confusing patient experience will be all the more important in the years to come.

The closer that humans interface with machines, the more the lines between the two become blurred and the greater the risk we run of dehumanizing our patients. Technology may soon be able to provide a rapid diagnosis and deliver the appropriate treatment in a timely manner, but living and breathing healthcare providers will be needed to supply the compassion and the human presence that we know is essential to optimal patient outcomes. Therefore, as we move towards the future, our ability to advocate for our patients, understand their personalized healthcare goals and guide them towards those goals will be indispensable. The key reason the CRTO created the GROW framework was to assist RTs in developing the competencies they need now and will need even more so in the years to come. Regardless of the practice setting, the RT Clinician of today will need to become the RT Educator, RT Communicator and RT Health System Navigator of the future.