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In our new Digital reality, Conveying and Driving Empathy will be Critical to the Future of Healthcare

Ankit Vahia, Executive Strategy Director, Pharma/ Health and Wellness, Grey Group
Ankit Vahia, Executive Strategy Director, Pharma/ Health and Wellness, Grey Group

Ankit Vahia, Executive Strategy Director, Pharma/ Health and Wellness, Grey Group

Like many other industries finding their way in the new Covid reality, the entire healthcare infrastructure has been turned upside down —and the biggest impact has come from the accelerated digitization of healthcare. Healthcare was always on the path to digitization, but the timeline for change has now shifted to warp speed. As this evolution into digitization continues, it will be more critical than ever to be mindful of the patient’s psychological state and make them feel understood at a very fundamental and emotional level. In spite of the seemingly non-personal nature of digital medicine, the goal should still be to talk with patients and not at or to them. It is critical that the treatment experience maintains its personal touch and connection. These factors converge into one simple goal:Demonstrating and working with empathy.

The concept of “digital empathy” isn’t new. With the advent of telemedicine, wearables and pharmaceutical driven apps, the need to bring in empathy has always been a goal – but not necessarily a budget priority despite knowing this is critical to how consumer make buying decisions. More than ever, consumers select brands that reflect their sensibilities, but also respect their time and unique situations. They want time back. They want to be remembered. They expect a brand experience to be easy and sensitive. As we move into this new era, there are multiple areas where digitization and empathy will need to come together.

 Success is no longer measured or built upon the latest technology or the most creative approach. Instead, the core of future approaches must be based on fulfilling emotional and fundamental needs through use of empathy 

Focus on empathy maps and not just digital engagement maps:

Traditionally, engagement maps in healthcare have focused largely on the various patient devices and channels. This approach was sufficient when part of a large ecosystem. But as the COVID era has shown us, to develop relationships that are truly sticky, we must dig deeper into the true motivations and emotional drivers behind patient engagement. Technology is important not just for accuracy and efficiency, but as an opportunity to address core emotional needs from patients and caregivers; speed, timeliness, access to data and convenience are all critical. Understanding these behaviors and habits are fundamental to ensuring empathy. Tools such as an engagement journey must be leveraged to understand both the user experience (UX) and the overall customer/patient experience (CX). A personal engagement journey will uncover motivations (whether we are talking about motivations to act or just consider), inevitably deepen our understanding of what the patient is trying to achieve, and guide us in how technology can serve these changing needs. Getting to the heart of these insights will ensure that the digital interface is personalized, to be adopted and, more importantly, adapted. Within healthcare this approach is more relevant than ever, in particular with aging patient populations (and associated caregivers) who are getting more comfortable interacting with digital healthcare as a replacement to their routine (eg: telemedicine) vs. a value-add supplement. Crafting experiences that make the patients feel recognized and content that appeals to them will bethe true determinants of success.

Use of voice-based interfaces:

A major impediment towards “digital empathy” has been the relative impersonal nature of the interaction. The recent announcement that Alexa can now be used for HIPAA compliant opportunities changes things. Alexa has already gained traction as a resource in cases of emergencies but can now be expanded into various inpatient and outpatient scenarios. Voice is a natural and intuitive interface and can serve to truly humanize the interactions and establish empathy, especially since most healthcare interactions are conversational and driven by voice. The innovation moving forward will be how voice shifts from a “pull” to a “push.” Pull is happening currently with skills creation, but with hundreds of thousands of available skills, how do patients source the tools meant for them? Push skills will help patients access the technology they may not have considered. With their permission, these skills will eventually help compliance and adherence across many states.

Learning how to best use AI and machine learning:

The use of AI and machine learning in healthcare continues to grow exponentially and will play a key role in driving “digital empathy,” albeit indirectly. With continual improvement in algorithms AI can serve to decrease the time and effort it takes for healthcare professionals to diagnose the patient and even take an initial look at effective treatment algorithms. Providers such as Babylon Health are using AI-based systems to increase the overarching efficiency within the system, leaving more time and opportunity for patient-physician interactions. This approach also enables truly patient-centric and empathy-driven interactions.

Whether we like it or not, the digital revolution within healthcare will continue at a feverish pace, largely due to necessity and choice. It will be equally important to ensure that “digital empathy” continues to be a progressive key area of focus. The major contributing factors of the treatment journey (and a positive treatment experience) are the face-to-face interactions, which are more about patient understanding than the treatment itself. As marketers we focus all too often on digital tactics and static ideas, which may not account for patient and customer needs at a more fundamental and emotional level. Success is no longer measured or built upon the latest technology or the most creative approach. Instead, the core of future approaches must be based on fulfilling emotional and fundamental needs through use of empathy.

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