COVID-19 amplified pain points for patients, providers and employees throughout the healthcare system. It has exposed gaps in supply chains, communications, clinician wellness and care delivery capabilities. The pandemic also illustrated more clearly than ever before the consequences of an environment in which providers and patients do not connect on a human level.
Over the past few years, providers and patients have accelerated their adoption of certain technology in healthcare, like telehealth. Other technologies including online scheduling, wayfinding and touchless registration have also resonated.
What we’ve learned is that different people value different things at different times. That may sound simple, but it isn’t. For example, the experience a mother wants during her child’s well check is different from what she wants when she learns her mammogram results aren’t normal.
Which brings us to the hard work. Empathy – imagining and at times feeling what another person feels (cognitive empathy), and then doing something about it (behavioral empathy) – is not a straightforward or fluffy concept. It requires smart strategy and real effort to be done right.
The stories we have all heard around the table – “I’m sure she is smart, but I didn’t feel heard,” or “they didn’t have any bedside manner” – are examples of empathy failures at the individual level. These shortcomings also persist at the organizational level: Phone systems that spin patients around and don’t land them with the person they need to speak to; charging patients to get copies of their own records; or employee feedback that is never actioned.
Industries that employ empathy effectively and make it integral to how they design products, services and experiences have always had a competitive advantage. Providers who harness the power of this dynamic can similarly build relationships with patients and employees, increase their market share and set a new standard for the industry. They can also deliver a profound medical impact with measurable ROI.
The balance we must strike with technology is between the promise of speed and convenience, and reducing friction and noise. Friction and noise in healthcare equate to additional (and avoidable) suffering. An app that allows patients to make unlimited medical appointments without balancing clinical need or appropriateness inadvertently creates chaos and costs for the patient and health system. An electronic medical records system that requires physicians to spend hours in front of a computer screen away from patients and their families diminishes their job satisfaction and drives burnout.
Qualtrics research shows that 45% of U.S. healthcare workers cite pandemic-related burnout as the top stressor in their jobs right now. Burnout can show up as a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and lack of fulfillment. Over time, clinicians and employees disengage or leave their jobs, and patients feel alone trying to navigate a convoluted, fragmented system.
When burnout surfaces, it’s much harder to create space for – much less express – empathy. Neuroscience has taught us a lot about empathy. It’s not a soft, intangible skill. Our brains are wired to connect with one another; in fact, the superpower we call empathy is at the heart of human survival and advancement.
How can the evolution of technology be connected with the human experience to achieve empathy at scale?
The human experience in healthcare must deliver ease, enhance engagement, make people feel cared for and foster relationships through communication. Technology needs to automate tasks and processes that make employees’ lives easier, proactively address pain points and personalize more steps in the healthcare journey. And, rather than constantly focusing people on what’s not working, technology must work in ways that help lift people with gratitude from any and all sources.
Imagine the benefits of AI to assist providers in capturing a patient’s preferences as they interact with every digital and person-to-person communication touchpoint – and delivering on those preferences without being asked. Think about a future wherein we tailor each interaction to the way the patient learns, their preferred communication and what’s most important to them. A future wherein we support the emotional healthcare journey as much as the clinical one? And how great will it feel for every person in the healthcare system to know their voice is heard, valued and acted upon?
Technology can help make it happen. And when we consistently act to enhance the patient and employee experience over time, we will build trust and create brand ambassadors.
By properly positioning technology to help humans to be their best, we’ll deliver on our people-centered promises – improving teamwork, communication, empathy and ease.