Tomorrow's Toolbox

Published on December 16, 2014
Will we face the challenges of tomorrow with yesterday’s tools, or will we challenge ourselves to do better, creating brand new solutions of our own devising?

Amsterdam feels wonderfully analog. Between its rickety single-speed bicycles and its low-rise canal boats, the city glides along in a way that hasn’t changed much in a hundred years.

Not that the Dutch move slowly, mind you. While attending EuSEM in Amsterdam this Fall I had the pleasure of renting a bicycle and joining the morning commute. This can best be described as darting in and out of a swiftly moving current of fish. Tall, smartly-dressed fish each with multiple baby fish in tow. My strategy for staying alive was simply to go with the flow and follow the lead of the hundred blond men, women and children (and babies) swarming the streets around me.

This unique contrast – old world meets fast pace – offered an ideal backdrop for EuSEM, a conference committed to bringing the best of technology to bear on age-old medicine. This emphasis on future tech was evident in the exhibit hall – where there were multiple new entrants into the portable ultrasound field – as well as during the lectures, where tweets carried more weight than questions from the audience. And the same emphasis has found its way into these pages.

We didn’t set out to make this issue of EPI about technology. But as we reached out to experts and questioned the EPI Network, a clear theme emerged. Whether the issue was Ebola, ED design or education, the future of emergency medicine appears to be wearable, digital, wifi-enabled and mobile-friendly. It’s open source, data-driven and probably available on the app store. Tech innovations can make us safer (read our review of new PPE gear). They can help us design infection-fighting emergency departments (Manny Hernandez gives a report) and allow us to treat patients from a smartphone (read Haywood Hall’s telemedicine update). New tech platforms can even open up worlds of free online tools for resource-limited settings (read how one Mexican residency had success with the Moodle platform).

Technology isn’t the answer to emergency medicine’s problems. Gadgets and software are merely tools. The essence of emergency care will always come back to patient care and human-to-human interaction. But behind the love of new tech is the spirit of innovation, and that piece is the critical bit. Will we face the challenges of tomorrow with yesterday’s tools, or will we challenge ourselves to do better, creating brand new solutions of our own devising?

A final word: create mental margin for innovation. Take a bike ride . . . or float down a canal if you’re so lucky. In our breakneck, put-out-the-fire world it can seem completely impossible to slow down long enough to think outside the box. But that is the only way that we’ll face tomorrow’s problems with innovative answers.

Logan Plaster Publisher

This article originally appeared in Issue 15 of Emergency Physicians International.

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