HHS 440: Technology in Health and Human Services

Week 4 - Instructor Guidance


robots conducting surgery

This is where we seem to be going in the short term...

Maybe this is where we are going?

star wars - luke's hand being replaced by a robot doctor

After Darth Vader (his father no less!!) lopped off Luke's hand a robot doctor replaced it...interesting was the dialogue between Luke and the robot which mimicked a patient doctor interaction. Will our robots become this personable someday?

Learning Outcomes

This week students will:

  • Analyze the impact of technology in surgery, pharmacy and dentistry in providing efficient, effective, client-centered services.
  • Evaluate the strengths and limitations of technological support of the provision of health care services and delivery.
  • Assess the impact of technology and healthcare on access to care as it relates to cost, availability, and other client concerns.


In this section you will find my own thoughts and teaching on the subject matter. This does not substitute for the assigned and suggested course readings and other materials.

I think one of the most remarkable things about this particular section of the material in the course is the range of technology that makes some of this work.

In the chapter on surgery we were introduced to remote surgery conducted by controlled robots...on the other end of the spectrum, faxing a prescription to a pharmacy to have it filled is ALSO an application of telemedicine.

Sometimes technology becomes so common that we lose the awe associated with it. Fax machines are a very interesting technology and were amazing when they first came out. (By the way, the first "fax" dates back to around 1850, click HERE to learn more!)

Technology and Science Fiction

I have a great interest in the genre of Science Fiction writing. Some of my favorite authors have been not only good writers, but visionaries of the future! Asimov, Bradbury, Clark, Niven...each of these have incorporated visions of our interactions with technology (and in many cases, technology going wrong - 2001 A Space Odyssey, for example).

These visions, however, are very applicable to our understanding of the mind learning to deal with advanced technology. There are many who want to imbed human characteristics into machines so that we can feel more comfortable with them. Computer users, all of you, have benefited from the science of computer-human interface engineering.

On a computer there really is no such thing as a "trash can" (Mac) or a "recycle bin" (PC)...but these images help us to better relate to our computers. By creating analogies from our real world into the digital world of the operating system, users are easier to train and we become emotionally attached to our machines.

In his Adept series, Piers Anthony grapples with the notion of a "self-aware robot" and the human who falls in love with her.

Will Smith in the movie iRobot

In this scene of "I Robot", Will Smith's character interrogates a very self-aware robot in this very good adaptation of Asimov's "I Robot" series.

Chapter 7: Information Technology in Surgery - The Cutting Edge

This chapter really identifies the "cutting edge" in telemedicine. As fascinating as the robotics are, I am very interested in nanotechnology and the potential of the very small.

Another science fiction reference might be the classic sci-fi B-movie "Fantastic Voyage" which depicts scientists shrunk down to a very small size and being injected into a human body to cure a patient of cancer.

vantastic voyage scence

In this scene the scientists have left their vessel and are exploring tissue...I've always wondered how the lit up the inside of the patient, but heck, it's a B-movie, we don't ask questions like that!

Imagine what tiny robots circulating in our system might be able to do for inoperable cancers? Would there really be anything that we could not access?

Chapter 8: Information Technology in Pharmacy

My wife is a nurse in a nursing facility. At her nursing home they have a machine they call "Omnicell" which operates as an "emergency box" for medications that run out or are called in on an emergency basis. The pharmacy fills the "box" and the machine tracks what pills were dispensed and who got them.

omnicell medication dispensing machine

This is a picture of the actual machine that dispenses the medications at her facility!

Because of the nature of pharmacy, these technologies are quickly spreading throughout the area that I live in. Hospital pharmacies have large dispensers that hook into the hospital information system for dispensing medications and tracking inventory.

I wonder if one day we might have a home pharmacy that can create meds that we need. We get a code from our doctor and we simply tell the machine what we want and it creates the pill right there!

food replicator from star trek

"Computer, this android is giving me a headache...two Tylenol, with water"

Chapter 9: Information Technology in Dentistry

Although we might not hear about it very much, tooth decay is a very prevalent disease world-wide and it leads to many other very serious conditions.

A great resource for examining teledentistry is on the Center for Disease Control website. Click HERE to visit the site on Oral Health.

Again, living in a rural state, there are access problems for all aspects of medical care in Maine. If you scroll down on the CDC page there is an article about the Washington County Children's Program initiative involving a equipped truck (called the "Tooth Fairy") that travels around the county and provides oral care to children.

Click HERE to link to the website "Caring Hands of Maine" for this and other dental programs in Maine


In this section you will find any specific instructions or ideas I may have for you to support your graded work. Please read the instructions for each task in the course as well as the information I have here.

Discussion: Surgery's Past, Present, and Future

Catherine Mohr's presentation for this discussion is really fascinating. I'm personally very interested in the history of things...particularly the history of ideas.

The field of research that looks at the negative impacts of "interventions" is called "Iatrogenics". Iatrogenics takes a sobering look at all advances in technology and weighs them with the related risks (and side effects). Searching this term might find both positive and negative outlooks on telemedicince.

For this particular discussion see if you can find any research related to the PATIENT experience of telesurgery. I would be interested in hearing about how patients have felt about the procedures and how their recovery went. If you can include that, even focus on that, in you discussion posting, that will add some additional diversity to our conversation.

Discussion: Pharmacy, Dentistry, and Technology

In your approach to this discussion consider the applications of telepharmacy and teledentistry to other countries. You might find a rich source of information about how these technologies are allowing medications and key dentistry interventions to be delivered into very remote regions of the world. Add this perspective to your discussions as I think this will shed light on where this technology may be the most effective.

As in all discussions, be sure to read what has been posted prior to doing your research so that you can contribute a unique perspective, article, or insight into the question.