This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Healthcare still faces an ongoing workforce burnout problem. Multiple culprits contribute to burnout — from career advancement barriers to unrealistic workloads. All causes considered, there’s no question it’s adding fuel to the staffing-crisis fire across the industry.
So how do leaders better understand their workforce to prevent burnout? And how does healthcare go from mitigating the problem to proactively helping their staff members live fulfilling lives?
In this episode of the Memora Health Care Delivery Podcast, our guest Adrienne Boissy, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Qualtrics and neurologist at Cleveland Clinic, discusses why empathy is integral to supporting healthcare professionals, what healthtech could do to promote empathy in healthcare, and why leaders need to carefully strategize how they introduce AI to their workforces.
Most health systems don’t reflect the empathy that motivates people to enter the field
People go into healthcare because they want to help other people. It’s a rational motivation. And delivering high-quality care requires a level of empathy rarely seen in other professions. Empathy helps care teams connect to their patients, understand context relevant to care episodes, and, ultimately, support more positive health outcomes.
But healthcare workplaces often don’t reflect this same level of empathy for their staff members. And Dr. Boissy suggests this can wear away morale and fulfillment for care teams.
Dr. Boissy says, “So many of our sentences start with, ‘I went into healthcare because I wanted to help other people.’ … But we enter a system that doesn’t feel empathic or humane. And next thing [you know], you’re more glorified if you made the discharge happen or completed the paperwork within 24 hours … That disconnect hurts a lot of us. That constant rub starts to erode some of our passion and engagement in this space.”
Dr. Boissy also points out that this operations-centric, disconnected work environment can significantly diminish how effectively physicians care for patients. She remarks, “90% of us miss emotional queues from our patients. 56% of clinicians think compassion is important. What is happening? … Sometimes we have systems that don’t always optimize caring for and loving the people within them.”
Digital health can play a key role in improving operational empathy
How do health systems create more empathic work environments for their staff? One way is to understand how operational friction can negatively affect the clinician experience. More proactively, Dr. Boissy argues, hospitals need to actively commit to removing it from their workdays.
Dr. Boissy explains, “When we think operationally, one of the most effective things systems could do is get out of people’s way … If I’m doing prior authorizations and reviewing faxes, I’m not present in a way I want to be.”
That’s why Dr. Boissy proposes that healthcare organizations consider innovative digital health platforms for unburdening clinical staff. She remarks, “Systems could eliminate the fax machine, use AI to find out why the same patient keeps calling, fill in forms I don’t need to be filling out as a human … I bucket those under operational empathy.”
And the benefits of committing to operational empathy extend beyond supporting the workforce. It can drive memorable, personalized experiences that forge connections, fostering more loyalty and ultimately boosting your bottom line — as it has in other industries like retail and travel.
Dr. Boissy adds, “Let’s say you don’t buy into experience … There are still numbers that count. Operational efficiency, quality, and financial data are all well-tied to experience efforts … If you look at [companies in] customer-obsessed industries, whether you start with Amazon and move up to L.L. Bean … these are organizations that double-down on creating an unforgettable experience for people [and] do quite well financially.”
By automating many routine tasks that hinder clinicians from staying present with their patients, Memora Health’s intelligent care enablement technology could help alleviate administrative burden for physicians. This could give them breathing room to intentionally express the level of empathy needed to connect with patients on a human level — enabling doctors to enjoy more fulfilling work while performing at the top of their license.
You need an effective strategy for introducing AI to your workforce
Although healthtech can doubtlessly play a role in simplifying complex care delivery, it’s important to mention that many medical professionals are still wary of going “all in” on AI — a perspective that reflects the prevailing American viewpoint. That’s why leadership needs to carefully frame how intelligent technologies are applied within their organizations.
To prove the helpfulness of AI to healthcare workers, Dr. Boissy suggests health systems laser-focus on using it to streamline clinical workflows. Doing so can improve efficiency, but also provide clinicians with spontaneous and inspiring moments that can get the dopamine flowing. She explains, “Tell [people] how much you appreciate them … Technology can help you do that. If we understood sentiment, if we understood unstructured data fully, we could deploy workflows that would automate joy for employees unexpectedly — [that’s] where a lot of the magic happens.”
The core secret for successfully supporting your clinicians with AI? Include their voices when identifying how your organization will — and won’t — use this novel technology. “AI holds a tremendous amount of promise … We have to apply some principles of real ethics … as well as think about how those guiding principles for creating a personalized experience are informed thoughtfully.”