Empathy in Healthcare: Why Human-touch is Critical to Cure Lives

Abhinav Shashank
Tue 23 October 2018

I have lost count of the number of discussions I have had around patient experience in the past. Inquisitive or disinterested, each patient has something to say about their experience at a facility. In an overarching manner, their pain-points include:

  • Their doctor didn’t have time to hear them out completely and the waiting-time was huge or
  • The patient couldn’t bond with doctors like the “good old days”

Have never-ending patient wait times become an epidemic?

More than 20% of the patients wish to postpone their appointments because of the never-ending wait-times. They do not want to spend hours inside a clinic and end up spending 20 minutes or less doing things which would actually benefit them.

Patients seek compassion. They want to have a cordial relationship with their provider. They want a relationship which goes beyond just talking and noting things down. And more than anything, they want their providers to accept that their needs are indeed justified. For instance, 70% of the patients feel that a personal apology reduces the frustration associated with long waiting periods. The issue of extended waiting-time has indeed been a long-neglected one. It is a problem which should be right on top of the priority list of providers!

9 basic rules each leader should know to reduce patient wait-times

Reducing waiting-time can improve patient satisfaction levels and transform a facility. Some ground rules leaders can follow to enrich the care delivery experience for their patients:

       1. Gather patient information beforehand

Rule #1 is arguably one of the most effective methods of micromanaging patients on a daily basis. Providers should have comprehensive knowledge about all the patients they will see on a particular day right at the start of that day. And for that, they need capable assistance from both data and support staff. Organizations cannot afford to reduce their physicians to a mere data interpreter for half of their time. Yet, a considerable number of organizations lack the right approach and infrastructure. Leaders need to equip their providers with relevant information at the point of care.

2. Use a patient portal

“I can call an Amazon or AT&T customer service executive at any time of the day to solve my problems. Why should this luxury elude me while seeking a health care treatment?”

Patient portals make life simpler for patients. Organizations can use such portals to notify patients about the status of their appointment. With these portals, providers can also engage their patients in their treatment journeys. In other words, providers can help patients in driving ownership of their health.

3. Embrace mobile queueing and telehealth applications

Organizations can leverage new-age solutions to give patients real-time updates about their upcoming appointments. Likewise, telehealth applications can bring down avoidable care episodes, thus enabling providers to focus on patients who need more care.

4. Encourage your patients to schedule appointments early

Ideally, booking an appointment with a doctor should be as easy as making a phone call. We all know its importance, don’t we?

5. Synchronize your staff shift time and patient inflow time

If a facility opens at 8 AM for patients, staff operations should begin at an earlier time. Right from wearing an apron to gathering information, providers should be prepared beforehand.

6. Study provider schedules and workflows

Consider a scenario where a physician is already seeing half a dozen more patient than she generally does on a given day. Now suppose you were to accommodate a patient more in her already hectic schedule. Who’d you want it to be- a person who has a common cold or a patient suffering from multiple morbidities? I rest my case here.

7. Ask providers for their feedback

Patient satisfaction, in many ways, is related to provider satisfaction. It is critical for the leadership to remain updated with the latest developments within their organization. Thus, they need to be utterly transparent with their providers. Understanding the problems care teams face can tremendously impact patient satisfaction.

8. Identify the right areas for investment

If I were a patient, I would really care about the couch in the waiting room, the speed of the free WiFi connection, and the hygiene levels in the restroom. However, I’d give little attention to a big shining trademarked logo on the reception desk. Patients are more concerned about their physical comfort and not the eye-catching stickers all around the place. Many leaders often fail to identify such critical aspects essential for patient satisfaction. They should act on things that make a huge impression on the patients’ mindset.

9. Create a policy for no-shows and late arrivals

Patients coming late for their appointment impact the schedules of both physicians and other patients. Organizations should design a policy to shift their appointment to a later time. Such rules can help in ensuring that daily proceedings within a facility are not hampered due to late arrivals.

Is the experience after waiting at the reception really top-notch?

1 in every 5 patients is ready to pay an extra fee for a quicker service- a testimony of how frustrating waiting times are for them. But what these patients wish for is a genuine one-on-one conversation with their physician. No patient wants a robotic care delivery experience.

It is often assumed that technology is the reason behind providers not engaging with their patients for a tête-à-tête during a care episode. However, this is not entirely true. While we do hear stories about providers focusing more on their computer screen than the patient itself, but there is another side to it which we need to acknowledge.

Advancing “human touch” with technology in 2019 and beyond

On a personal level, I am never thrilled by technologies that do little to move away from the conventional approach. If any technology has to find a place in a provider’s life, it has to make life simpler for them, and it should aid the process of provider-patient engagement. Say, a solution to automatically triage patients based on their needs can be a valuable technology. Or a portal to store and update all the relevant patient information to drive clinical applications.

Human touch is the basis of all healthcare operations. Patients want to be treated with caution, respect, and intelligence. Leaders need not worry about what patients and providers talk about inside a facility. They just need to facilitate that conversation with the right data and contextual information. This is what the fundamental role of a technological solution should be in a care delivery system.

The Road Ahead

It is impossible to function without the physician’s hand as a diagnostic tool in the age of MRI scanners and hand-held ultrasound machines. Even in contemporary healthcare, human touch has to be a part of every mode of care delivery. In years to come, we will see revolutionary technologies that will give healthcare a complete facelift. Eventually, they will be replaced by more advanced coming-of-age solutions. What’d stay, are providers and patients and their collaboration to steer healthcare in the right direction.


To know more about how a unified healthcare data platform can deliver the right information at the right time, get a demo.

Join Dr. Paul Grundy, the ‘Godfather’ of Patient-Centered Medical Home revolution and Dr. David Nace, CMO at Innovaccer for a webinar on “Using Teams to Drive Value: A Successful Approach to Population Health” on Tuesday, October 30, 2018, 10 AM PT / 12 Noon CT / 1 PM ET. Register here.

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