With patients more vulnerable than other consumers, technology must keep human empathy at center

Cleveland Clinic's chief experience officer and chief nursing officer discuss the potential and challenges of digital tools in patient care.
By Laura Lovett
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Photo credit: ImageLinkPhoto.com

Patients are becoming savvier consumers of healthcare. Like in other industries, technology is raising the convenience standards of the industry, but the patient journey has its own set of unique challenges, Cleveland Clinic executives said during this week's Patient Experience: Empathy and Innovation Summit. 

“Healthcare can learn a lot from other industries. The vulnerability that our patients have will never make them a typical consumer,” Adrienne Boissy, chief experience officer at the Cleveland Clinic, said during a keynote at the event, which was conducted in partnership with HIMSS. 

The healthcare system is trusted to take care of people at their most vulnerable time. While getting treatment often means a money transaction, there is a major difference between the patient's role and needs and those of a typical consumer. But that doesn’t mean healthcare doesn’t have room to improve, she said. 

“Human dignity is preserved as you shop at the mall, and people know the prices of everything they buy in any other industry,” Boissy said. “Retail clinics these days like CVS are texting you as soon as your prescription is done. Contrast this to healthcare today, the work still left to do. We still serve some food that is actually unidentifiable. We still have some bills you can’t possibly understand. We provide sleeping accommodations on a soft gurney as you stare at the clock in front of your bed. ... So, we leave patients sometimes with a bad experience feeling lost, helpless, alone frustrated and vulnerable. Our responsibility as people creating systems is that the care is actually tremendous. Empathy is also about living with each other.”

Technology, specifically digital health, is coming on to the scene with promises to uproot the health system. But even with these tools Boissy said human communication is at the center. 

“So, leaping forward also means thinking about the digital experience our patients will have in this new world. I want to offer some hope and reassurance that, although the horizon looks different, it’s also the same,” Boissy said. “Even though e-learning and nano coaching will occur, people still hunger for learning. Even though we might communicate through virtual platforms, interactive in-patient technology, in-patient technology, voice activate technology, people are still talking. Even with some touches becoming virtual, through mobile devices or through eICUs, people still want relationships and still want to feel cared for.”

However, there are still a lot of questions when it comes to implementing and developing these tools.

“Digital technologies have begun to deliver on their promise, and yet there is a lot of work to do, especially in the best way to use them — to respond and to know individual preferences, needs and values, the original definition of patient-centered care,” Boissy said. “Like all the boxes I still see on the EHR screen, none of them yet tell me who that patient is, who they love, who loves them and what their goals are. We are going to change that.”

Human touch is essential and patients can help educate the providers and the industry as a whole, according to Kelly Hancock, chief nursing officer at the Cleveland Clinic. The conversation about patient experience needs to be a global one and include not just innovators, but also patients. 

“For the last decade it has really been about elevating the global conversation about experience, and this community here has been doing it for a very long time,” Hancock said. “From a chronically ill patient’s journey to insight on technology game-changers, innovation has arrived in full force. We will be celebrating patient innovation and, guess what, they have a few things to teach us.”

Focus on Patient Experience

In May, we'll talk to the thought leaders and first-movers reimagining how and where — Hint: outside their perimeter — and report on how they're to activate if not delight the people they treat.

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