Finding the right balance between empathy and tech

An interview with Siddharth Sharma, patient advocate speaking at the HIMSS & Health 2.0 European conference in Helsinki this June.
By Tammy Lovell
09:16 am

When Siddharth Sharma received a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, his first reaction was to create a spreadsheet of health data.

“As an engineer, I did the most logical thing when I came back from the doctor with my insulin and my needles; I got out my laptop and opened a spreadsheet. I started logging everything to find out what was going on,” he tells MobiHealthNews.

However, Sharma knows that not all patients are as data savvy as him and insists that one size does not fit all when it comes to health technology.

“Not everybody is like me and loves numbers or wants 50 apps on their phone. When you live with a long-term autoimmune condition, it can be too much.

“Finding the balance between the technology and the human experience of healthcare is important,” he says.  

Sharma will be speaking as a patient advocate in the shared decision-making in diabetes care session on Tuesday, June 11, taking place from 13:00 until 16:30 at the HIMSS Health 2.0 European conference in Helsinki, Finland.

Personally, Sharma has found the Dexcom continuous glucose monitoring system helpful in managing his condition. But he believes patient choice is an important factor and says health technology should be customised for the individual. For this reason, he advises tech providers to involve users when developing new products. 

“Don’t wait until six months before launch – if you have patient involvement from day one you can create a better product,” he said.

For example, he recently acted as a beta tester for a diabetes app in development, which aimed to use AI to give personalised dietary guidance.

“After a couple of weeks, I stopped using it as I didn’t have time to take pictures of everything I ate and enter the grams of carbs and protein, fibre in each meal. It was too taxing, and I didn’t have the patience to allow the AI to know enough about me to give me good value,” he says.

Sharma also believe that healthcare professionals should keep up-to-date with the latest healthcare apps so they can advise patients.

“If a patient goes to the app store they’re lost. There are too many pros and cons and it can be overwhelming. It’s about making sure there is enough knowledge among doctors and healthcare providers to guide users towards the best way of using technology,” he says.

In managing his own condition, Sharma has been heavily influenced by following other diabetes patients on social media. 

“My journey started on Instagram with people I followed and who followed me. We learnt from each other,” he explains. “It’s becoming influencer-lead decision making rather than the healthcare system advising you all those things.”

But ultimately Sharma believes that technology alone cannot replicate good healthcare.

“You can’t replace empathy with technology. AI is coming, but it’s way off what is required for patients. There has to be a balance reached not only by the tech firms who are developing products, but also by healthcare providers to make sure the patient feels well informed and taken care of.”

MobiHealthNews is a HIMSS Media publication.

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