Putting Data to Work: Building Empathy into Health IT

During the past holiday season while driving to various locations for errands, I spent several days listening to the audio book When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalnithi. I drove around town with my hectic schedule, an odd dichotomy as I listened to a deeply personal and contemplative memoir by a neurosurgeon with a terminal stage IV lung cancer diagnosis. This memoir gave me a glimpse into the world our patients at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have to navigate on a daily basis across the unknown, and often difficult, terrains just to perform basic tasks.

As a person working closely in health IT, I wondered how we can utilize what we know and what we understand to make a true impact in our patients’ lives. I know we began to develop thought leadership that centers on empathy – specifically, patient engagement and satisfaction – in healthcare in recent years; however, we may need to consider focusing further on dialogues and discussions that integrate empathy in the strategic decisions of health IT.

Dr. Thomas Lee, chief medical officer of Press Ganey, recently published An Epidemic of Empathy in Healthcare, which illustrates the importance of compassionate care in the whole spectrum of care. There is certainly greater emphasis that empathy is the only way to build healthcare, and health IT is an important component of overall strategic imperatives.

When our patients will tell us, “Hurry, we do not have much time!” we can sense their urgency in their voice. Our patients are individuals fighting with grit to overcome the tremendous adversity they must face. We are part of the process of delivering compassionate, coordinated care through improvements in patient safety, efficiency, effectiveness, timeliness, and patient satisfaction that incorporates health IT to its full potential. Therefore, it is important that we do not lose sight of the concept of empathy as part of the collective impact we strive to achieve.

In short, empathy is the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes, but in healthcare, empathy is often a synopsis with effective communication between providers and patients to facilitate accurate diagnosis and procedural treatment. In the case of health IT, this concept is nebulous at best. We do not provide any diagnosis or treatment plan for patients. Yet, more than ever, we need to:

  • effectively communicate with physicians/clinicians, and administrators; and
  • understand patients’ perspectives to determine what their needs are.

Dr. W. Edward Deming once famously quoted “In God we trust; all others bring data.” With the change in the healthcare paradigm from volume to value, we need to assist and provide all stakeholders involved with pertinent information from data to make the right decision at the right time for the best outcomes and value for our patients.

The demand for building an operational IT infrastructure to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and quality of care continues to grow. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to develop clinical and business intelligence platforms to help measure and reduce the variability of quality of care and to increase the reliability of care to ensure that it meets the needs of patients and their safety.

It is certainly a paramount challenge to efficaciously use “big data” compiled from disparate data sources, which has complexities in terms of sheer volume and incongruities in technical structure. One way we can help deliver actionable information that will drive process improvements to report the quality of care is with the use of dashboards, benchmarks, shared resources, and other platforms that promote transparency within and among peer institutions.

As health IT professionals, our skills are transferable to work in any industry of choice, but we can make an impact for users, stakeholders, and patients and their families by including the art of empathy as part of our strategic framework.

  • Have you had an experience where data and IT have been used to foster empathy in healthcare?
  • In thinking about the HIMSS C&BI blog post Has Healthcare Technology Left Out the Caring?, how can data and technology be used to improve the healthcare experience and care pathways with empathy for the patient?

Jointhe HIMSS C&BI Community today to learn more about applying data and analytics to improve health, and other critical topics that will help you on your journey to Turn Data to Action.

culture of care; patient experience; data; clinical & business intelligence