The Integration of Empathy Is Essential to the Success of Digital Health Care Technology

Health care is inherently human, so digital health care technology aimed at advancing human health needs empathy to be successful.

As we contemplate the future and what is required to optimize digital technology to advance human health, we must focus on the person at the center to inform our decision-making—the patient. Technological innovation is designed to make processes more convenient, efficient, scalable, faster, and smarter, replacing functions that have historically been performed by humans.

Yet, technology is no panacea. Health care is inherently human, demanding a level of social responsibility that is at the core of what it means to being human. For this reason, the answer to digital optimization lies in keeping digitization human through a combination of the 2. In this model, a human-digital hybrid includes the integration of empathy into technological systems in health care, which is needed to achieve an optimally satisfying user experience.

Nationwide, pharmacy professionals have been on the frontlines of the pandemic, rising to the challenge of a rapid and simultaneous escalation in both patient care and digital integration. In the aftermath of the pandemic, pharmacy-patient interaction remains challenged by an unprecedented imbalance of patient demand versus staffing capacity. Pharmacies remain overwhelmed, struggling to deliver empathic care to patients with chronic medication needs.

More than ever before, companies that develop health care technologies to support care delivery must demonstrate commitment to the human aspect of health care; this will help to ensure that patients are heard, seen, and met where they are along their health care journey. However, this technological focus requires a philosophical alignment beyond just a recognition of who has “skin in the game;” it requires a mutual recognition that digital technology needs a human element to be successful in health care.

Empathy as a Health Care Tool

A recent article in the Royal Society of Medicine showed that people value the emotional support they receive from their providers as much as they value medical treatment itself.1 Empathy from health care providers engenders trust and recognition that patients are people first. For patients, being a patient in a health care setting is only a small portion of their life experience; increasingly, patients are not wanting to be defined by these health conditions that are only a fraction of who they are.

By engaging with patients on a more human level, patients are more likely to also be more receptive to education about their health care and medications. In a recent study assessing patients’ views on their health care needs, greater patient education was ranked by 53% of those surveyed as their greatest need; including patients in explanations of medication decisions and connecting with them during their treatment journey is thus crucial to meeting patients where they are.1

Empathy should be a seen as a foundational component of health care, as empathy is what patients need most at the most difficult points of their care journey. Following a new diagnosis or treatment, a familiar face at the pharmacy close to home can help ease patients’ anxiety as they cope with the news. Empathic support is thus a powerful tool to improve medication adherence and persistence, which are key metrics for patients’ health and a pharmacy business’s success.

The Impact of Empathy

By keeping an unrelenting focus on the human experience and providing unintrusive technological support, the human-tech hybridization model can make good things happen. Through practicing empathic care, pharmacies can establish a better rapport with patients, engender trust, receive higher customer satisfaction scores, boost customer acquisition and retention, improve their quality ratings, and increase payment for services—all of which have a positive impact on the pharmacy’s business.2-4

Other documented benefits associated with an empathic approach to patient care include the potential for a decrease in the patient’s experience of isolation, anxiety, pain, and depression. Because medication adherence and persistence can be improved when these other mental health issues are addressed, chronic conditions are much easier to manage, and wellbeing, quality of life, and health outcomes can improve.2-4

How to Implement Empathic Care in Practice

Opportunities to improve patient satisfaction exist at all levels of the pharmacy-human interaction ranging from basic customer service to complex patient care. Empathy enables pharmacy team members to interact with customers who may seem angry about the dispensing process, to understand the worry and concern at the root of their anger when a prescription is delayed and enable them to diffuse it by offering an autofill or med sync solution. Likewise, it is empathy that better enables pharmacy team members to ask the right questions, listen actively, and provide needed information about medications and conditions to achieve improved adherence and better health outcomes.

Additionally, when pharmacies engage on a human level with patient support programs, patients may become more engaged in their treatment, leading to potentially better addressing some additional care needs related to social determinants of health.

Empathy Is Good Business

Developing meaningful relationships with patients creates an emotional bond that helps them make lasting change—including taking medications as prescribed. Empathy activates and moves patients from emotion to action. When that action includes more prescriptions filled and refilled as directed by physicians, that’s good empathy-driven business.6

Providing empathic support is a tall order. Because of this, unintrusive technology designed to help provide guidance and support for those who interact with patients is essential. The key is making it personal—keeping the patient front and center with an understanding of what they are facing. Further, implementation of an empathy-driven adherence program can improve adherence regardless of other programs pharmacies are currently running and is ideal for pharmacies in need of a low-cost option to lift adherence rates.

Driving that human connection at the start sets the right tone; no one wants to be counseled by a robot. Technology can then help to facilitate those communications and measure users’ sentiments regarding starting a new medication, ultimately helping patients have a better understanding of what a prescribed medication is meant to do for them and instilling knowledge to build patients’ confidence in the potential for that medication to actually benefit their health.

Conclusion

As we look to the future and the growth of digital technology, we must keep humans at the center. Society is moving towards greater inclusivity and equity—and in health, addressing and embracing these values is crucial to give people the respect, the kindness, the care, and the confidence they need to craft the healthiest life possible.

The world changes when health care is no longer about the condition a patient suffers from, but about the compassion they received in their moment of need.

About the Author

Michael Oleksiw is a leader in technology development and product data on a global scale for over 20 years solving specific business and societal problems through innovation. As CEO of Pleio and developer of the GoodStart® patient support program, Michael has built an effective platform that uses the power of human connection to activate empathy between non-HCPs and millions of patients. Treatment results are boosted by minimizing the major points of medication fall-off and building confidence in patient activity through a uniquely different mix of digital and human touchpoints.

References

  1. Accenture Health and Life Sciences Experience Survey—U.S. findings, digital adoption in healthcare: reaction or revolution?
  2. Ratka A. Empathy and the Development of Affective Skills. Am J Pharm Educ. 2018;82(10):7192. doi:10.5688/ajpe7192
  3. Lelorain S, Brédart A, Dolbeault S, Sultan S. A systematic review of the associations between empathy measures and patient outcomes in cancer care. Psychooncology. 2012;21(12):1255-1264. doi:10.1002/pon.2115
  4. Howick J, Mittoo S, Abel L, et al. A price tag on clinical empathy? Factors influencing its cost-effectiveness. J R Soc Med. 2020, 113(10) 389–393. doi: 10.1177/0141076820945272
  5. Clinical Empathy Key to Pharmacist-Patient Interactions, Pharmacy Times, March 19, 2015 https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/clinical-empathy-key-to-pharmacistpatient-interactions
  6. Oleksiw, M. The business of empathy: How pharmacists can improve performance by improving the human connection, MedCity Influencers, Aug 26, 2022
  7. Hemmings, Jilea. Social Impact Tech: Michael Oleksiw of Pleio On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact, Authority Magazine. June 29, 2022