Healthcare takes place at critical moments in the lives of humans — moments that often involve heavy conversations about morbidity and mortality. At these points, clinicians must develop trust and speak transparently with patients. They must communicate with empathy.
Empathy is not an option in healthcare. It helps clinicians develop a deep understanding of their patients’ perspectives to help best guide them on their paths forward. To understand their concerns, their potential pitfalls, and their fears — to help them be better informed and equipped to take control of their care journeys.
Indeed, most healthcare professionals enter the field out of empathy — just as most providers acknowledge its importance for high-quality care delivery. Personally, my healthcare colleagues are some of the most compassionate, caring individuals I know. But the reality is that care teams across the U.S. are finding it increasingly challenging to balance an overly burdensome work environment while focusing on delivering compassionate, connected care. When roughly 70% of patients say their physicians lack compassion, the time to address this issue has never been more urgent.
What we need is a transformation in what it means to work in healthcare and practice medicine. Taking empathy from a popular catchphrase to actual action means giving time back to clinicians and prioritizing the human connection between patient and provider — and removing the unnecessary work that gets in the way of that connection. It means embracing operational empathy.
Why does healthcare need to address operational barriers to support empathy?
Healthcare environments are demanding — and they’re anything but silent. They require clinicians to coordinate at an incredible pace, earnestly juggling a myriad of tasks and urgent demands to meet the diverse needs of patients — ensuring that each individual's well-being is prioritized amidst the entropy that these environments create. Time is fleeting, but attentiveness is critical.
They also demand a lot of operational management from care teams — much of which is done with outdated technologies. For instance, 70% of providers still rely on fax machines to share sensitive patient information. And the EHR — though having revolutionized data storage within the healthcare environment — has unintentionally required more time from physicians. Recent research has shown that physicians spend an average of 52 minutes per workday answering EHR inbox messages — including 19 minutes after clocking out (often at night, leading to the term “pajama time”).
Patient call messages also cause significant operational stress for care teams. One report revealed patient call notifications in EHRs as a significant contributor to physician burnout in 2020.
The reality is that the more clinicians divert attention to managing the logistics of care delivery — instead of on delivering care itself — the less they can effectively engage their patients with empathy. And, ultimately, patients themselves feel less engaged in and satisfied about their care experiences.
We owe it to care teams to reward and encourage compassion, doing what we can to remove operational barriers from care delivery to give them the freedom to connect with patients. The well-being of our healthcare professionals, patients, and the industry at large hinges on it.
“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.”
- Adrienne Boissy, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Qualtrics and neurologist at Cleveland Clinic, on The Memora Health Care Delivery Podcast
How can digital healthcare support operational empathy?
To sustain empathy, it must underpin every decision point that happens in a health system — including leveraging available technology to preserve patient-provider connections that lead to better experiences and outcomes. Investments need to be made to operationalize empathy fully, and the value is there to rationalize them.
One emerging healthtech segment leading the way in streamlining clinical workflows to unburden care teams is intelligent care enablement — scalable technology that supports both patients and care teams through complex clinical episodes to more efficiently deliver personalized, proactive, and coordinated care. Some unique aspects of this nascent innovation category include:
1. Natural language processing (NLP) to reactively support patients before, after, and between visits
From accurately recording and organizing doctors’ notes during appointments to enhancing understandings of the patient experience during hospital visits, there are few technologies as exciting as NLP in healthcare. It leverages large language models (LLMs) — deep-learning algorithms trained on vast conversational data — to decipher, predict, and even generate language. This AI advancement can also be used before, during, and after patient visits to better support individuals in navigating complex care journeys.
Memora Health’s digital health platform leverages NLP to power its conversational AI that understands patient questions through SMS text, then retrieves answers from an evidence-based clinical content database. This feature enables independent patient engagement that doesn’t require clinician involvement in most cases. At one large health system’s maternity unit, Memora’s conversational AI accurately addressed over 73% of spontaneous messages from patients..
2. Advanced automation designed to assist clinicians
Automation has changed a lot of how care is managed. Appointment reminders, for instance, are commonplace at health practices across the country. But how would an appointment reminder handle a patient’s concern about high fever or severe pain? It simply wouldn’t, leaving patients with the only option of calling their doctors or visiting the ED. Fortunately, advanced automation that can address scenarios like this one is possible thanks to innovative conversational AI technology.
For example, Memora’s Care Programs are developed to automatically triage concerning patient-sent SMS messages to the right providers directly into the EHR — letting them know exactly which individuals need the most immediate assistance outside of the hospital setting. Additionally, Memora’s clinician-facing dashboard automatically organizes and visualizes patient-reported data to provide care teams with longitudinal information for better insights into patient care journeys.
3. Proactive patient education to keep people on course
Not only can digital health solutions support patients by independently answering their care-related questions. They can also proactively support individuals with information and resources — timed for exactly when they need them.
Memora embeds this feature in its intelligent care enablement platform by incorporating insights from its in-house clinical team and experts at each specific health system to form a clinically relevant content library. This database is used to inform service line Care Programs designed to keep patients engaged throughout their care journeys and give them the fundamentals they need to understand their health.
As a result, patients experience higher-touch care away from the hospital and clinicians benefit from a virtual assistant that can preempt many of the basic patient concerns that come with care delivery — giving them the breathing room they need to focus more on performing at the top of their license and delivering compassionate, connected care.
One of the great challenges ahead in healthcare will be reinforcing empathy. In some ways, technology from the past decade has unintentionally diluted compassion in our field. And it’s up to the healthtech sector to learn from those mistakes and innovate to change course. What if, instead of sterilizing the world from human touch, technology could actually carve out space to bring people closer together? With advancements in AI, this vision has never been more possible.
Ready to learn more about how Memora’s technology helps unburden clinicians? Schedule a demo to see our platform in action.