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Using Tech, Without Losing Touch

Barnett Curtis 2014_150
Curtis Barnett President and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield

We live in an exciting age of discovery. Technological advances are helping us do things and develop solutions that we thought improbable just a few years ago. We can sit in a recliner and do our grocery shopping by talking to a “smart” speaker. We can video chat with family on our smartphones and tell our TVs what we want to watch, as our robot vacuum cleaner whirrs away, keeping things tidy.

Those examples may make us smile. But in the healthcare system, we see that digital technology will continue to be a critical factor in making healthcare more convenient, effective and affordable. Technology already is helping us find more efficient ways to reach people and keep them healthy.

Technology becomes even more important when we realize that nationwide, people continue to move into larger cities and out of rural areas. Tax and wage bases are shrinking in more rural communities. This may make it more difficult for them to sustain local health resources that can meet their residents’ medical needs. If the trend persists, rural areas stand a greater chance of being left further behind regarding local access to the healthcare services they need.

During my career, I have traveled throughout Arkansas witnessing the challenges patients in rural areas and healthcare providers face. The memories of places and faces remained etched in my mind.

So I was proud when Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield recently invested $1 million in the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ new Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. In a nutshell, this initiative is using technology to ensure that all Arkansans, regardless of where they live, can get the needed, timely care. We believe this is a critically important investment that can change how our state accesses healthcare.

Our support of the initiative also honors Mahlon O. Maris, M.D., who has served on our Board of Directors since 1979. He spent nearly 50 years as a primary care physician serving the people of rural Arkansas.

While technology like this is impressive and exciting, we must never lose sight of our purpose for using it: helping people. Our healthcare system is, and has always been, based on personal concern, care and service for our fellow men and women – often in their times of greatest need.

We don’t have to look far to find examples. The cancer-treatment journey of national Faces of Fearless® award winner Bob McIntosh – and the special bond he and his wife, Charlie, developed with their Arkansas Blue Cross case manager, Samantha Costello, R.N. – is one very touching example.

It’s a perfect illustration of the power of personal, hands-on health management built on relationships – it’s people helping people.

In an age of advancing technology, the humanity of the people we serve must remain our main focus.

Dr. Maris captured this concept perfectly in his remarks at the announcement of our investment in the UAMS Institute for Digital Health & Innovation: “In all of our modernization and digitalization, let us remember the care component of medical care. Let us maintain ‘high touch’ along with ‘high tech.’ The practice of medicine is about the patient.”

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