I don’t usually write about personal anecdotes, but my 12-year-old son taught me a lesson a few days ago that is worth sharing. For his birthday a few months ago, my wife and I bought him what we thought was a computer game that he’d play on a laptop without needing (or wanting) Internet access. It turned out that it wasn’t a game and he would need Internet access to upgrade his toolkit and engage in online communities to build elaborate virtual landscapes and structures. So much for parental due diligence.
Over the following couple of months, he’d show us a new “house” or “mountain.” He told us he was working with a school friend on a project using the software. Once, when driving out of town, we passed a modest mountain upon which someone had painted an American flag. Within the hour, my son had reproduced the flag in this software package; within three hours, he’d added flashing lights and colors through virtual circuitry.
Our older son played with wood blocks and Legos — and is currently finishing up his engineering degree. Could our younger son be moving in the same direction using virtual tools? He was clearly hooked — spending hours studying YouTube videos explaining the intricacies of the program. With all this focus, his skills started to improve significantly. What we didn’t realize was that he was also learning through collaborating online with others — his older brother, friends… and online acquaintances.
One day, he approached my wife with his open cell phone stating, rather calmly, “The police officer wants to talk to you.” Not knowing what to expect, my wife took his phone and introduced herself. She subsequently had a very pleasant talk with a police officer from another state. Evidently, during the course of collaborating online with one of his virtual friends to build a particularly complex landscape, the boys got the novel idea that it would be better if the two “engineers” spoke by phone. It seems that the online chat wasn’t very efficient and they couldn’t coordinate their activities without significant delay and difficulty. The virtual friend’s mother, however, found out about the cell phone exchange and called the local police out of concern that her 12-year-old son might have been the target of an online predator. The police officer was checking to see if our son was indeed a 12-year-old boy wanting to talk to another 12-year-old boy in order to solve their virtual construction challenge.
Initially, my wife and I were taken aback when we learned that our son exchanged cell phone numbers with an online stranger. But, we used this opportunity as a lesson — for our son and for ourselves — as we re-established parameters for online activities. We actually came to realize that despite the fact that he ignored our previous guidance, we were pretty proud of him for “thinking out of the box.” Here was a sophisticated 12-year-old, fairly knowledgeable about computers, the software, and (evidently) online collaboration. But, when a complex and challenging situation came up, he recognized that human-to-human conversation would be far more efficient and satisfying than continuing to rely on the technology.
Therein lies a potential lesson for us all. As we move towards Certified EHR Technology, Stages 2, 3, & 4 (and beyond) of Meaningful Use; as we add new objectives and measures; as we increase thresholds for existing measures; and as we require new features, functions, and buttons in our EHRs, let us not forget to take some time to pick up the phone and talk to our colleagues, patients, and families.
This post is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the American College of Physicians (ACP). ACP does not endorse a specific EHR brand or product and ACP makes no representations, warranties, or assurances as to the accuracy or completeness of the information provided herein.