Humans have a deep-seated need for interpersonal contact, and understanding that need should guide not only how we structure our work relationships in the post-COVID era, but also our development and deployment of new technologies like AI in radiology.
That’s according to James Whitfill, MD, who gave Thursday’s opening address at SIIM 2023. Whitfill’s talk – which was followed by a raucous audience participation exercise – was a ringing demonstration that in-person meetings like SIIM still have relevance despite the proliferation of Zoom calls and remote work.
Whitfill, chief transformation officer at HonorHealth in Arizona and an internist at the University of Arizona, was chair of the SIIM board in 2020 when the society made the difficult decision to move its annual meeting to be fully online during the pandemic.
The experience led Whitfill to ponder whether technology designed to help us work and collaborate virtually was an adequate substitute for in-person interaction. Unfortunately, the research suggests otherwise:
- Numerous studies have demonstrated the negative effect that the isolation of the COVID pandemic has had on adolescent mental health and academic performance
- Loneliness can also have a negative effect on physical well-being, with a recent U.S. Surgeon General’s report finding that prolonged isolation is the health equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day
- Peer-reviewed studies have shown that people working in in-person collaborative environments are about 10% more productive and creative than those working virtually.
Whitfill’s talk was especially on-point given recent research indicating that workers across different industries who used AI were more lonely than those who didn’t, a phenomenon that shouldn’t be ignored by those planning radiology’s AI-based future.
That said, virtual technologies can still play a role in making access to information more equitable. Whitfill noted that some 160 people were following the SIIM proceedings entirely online, and they otherwise would not have been able to benefit from the meeting’s content.
To drive the point home, Whitfill then had audience members participate in a team-based Rochambeau competition that sent peals of laughter ringing through Austin Convention Center.
Whitfill’s point was underscored repeatedly by SIIM 2023 attendees, who reiterated the value of interpersonal connections and networking at the conference. It’s ironic that a meeting devoted at least in part to intelligence that’s artificial has made us better appreciate relationships that are real.