In the pandemic world, digital interactions have boomed across industries. These interactions bring convenience, speed and ease—but what are we missing? As noted in the Fjord Trends 2021 report, technology interactions are a sea of sameness due to templated designs and monotonous user experiences. There is little joy or personality. For instance, rather than visiting our favourite teller at the bank and chatting while we make a deposit, we are now depositing checks via our phones. No person-to-person. Just a transaction. It’s easy, but it’s not engaging.
Consider what is lost in a virtual healthcare interaction. We pivoted to virtual care overnight— 80% of providers had a virtual visit in 2020, up from just 22% in 2019.1 And higher numbers of healthcare consumers (54%) are open to receiving virtual healthcare services from their traditional providers.2 Adoption is critical, but it’s not everything.
It’s time to think creatively about what is possible. There are so many things digital can do. We need to begin to understand the value it can bring when it enables human connections and high-quality care.
Bring the human touch into high-tech
Clinicians are people, too, and the term "bedside manner" exists for good reason. Patients appreciate the medical expertise that clinicians impart, but they also care about the communication and empathy.
As many of us have experienced, video calls are different from in-person meetings. In the same way, virtual care interactions can be devoid of that personal connection. They are more transactional in nature and there is less opportunity to allow clinicians to have their personalities shine through.
The ways in which we interact online will continue to evolve, so clinicians should evolve with it. Healthcare organisations can give clinicians simple tools to allow them to show empathy, connect with patients and make interactions more intimate. Platforms like Mmhmm allow users to add custom effects, backgrounds and animations to videos and presentations.
A higher-tech option would be equipping clinicians to share interactive content, like video, with patients in real time. For example, to help the patient understand in more detail what their treatment will involve, and steps they can take to support themselves to improve compliance and outcomes. The tools are there, it’s a matter of evolving the services and making clinicians comfortable using them.
Healthcare organisations also should consider what is the right balance of in-person and virtual. For instance, VillageMD provides care through three channels: at a clinic, virtually and in a patient’s home. Offering a blend of all three gives patients the opportunity to access personalised, consistent and connected care on their terms. The company touts a 93 average Net Promoter Score, indicating that patients are likely to recommend the service.
Virtual can create strong connections to create new rituals
As the Fjord Trends 2021 report notes, the pandemic, and its associated disease control measures, disrupted rituals including how we celebrate life and loss—and how we live each day. Routine practices, such as doctor’s appointments, are different. Businesses and people alike looked for innovative ways to adapt. The move to virtual care is a prime example.
While virtual care can at times be isolating, it can also be integrating. There are innovative ways to use technology to influence behaviours, provide choices or enable people to better understand their disease or health issue. Some hospitals are providing iPads to allow patients battling COVID-19 to connect safely to loved ones. Massachusetts General Hospital has launched two new inpatient virtual care programs aimed at improving patient care and connecting patients with their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.3 Others are making sure that family members can connect virtually with pregnant moms to be part of a birth experience. Without technology, these patients would feel more alone.
The potential of virtual for mental health alone is astonishing. Many people feel isolated right now and are struggling to cope. In fact, 83% of US employees are facing mental health issues amid this global pandemic, according to a survey.4 Virtual care has tremendous potential to help people at scale. Mental health care provider Lyra has grown from 50,000 members to 800,000 in this past year. The company partners with employers to offer workers tools such as video coaching, symptom checkers and therapy sessions at the workplace.5
Beyond virtual therapy sessions, people can access tools such as online diaries to journal feelings, text reminders that encourage positivity and group sessions that connect people with others who are feeling the same. Some innovative health organisations are even looking at how group sessions can help to solve behavioural health affordability and access problems.
A platform for partnership
Healthcare organisations can find new ways to have differentiated engagement with patients across a combination of in-person and virtual channels. Virtual health can help to empower people to play their part and take greater ownership of their care. Conversational AI can help triage patients and check symptoms, notifying a person whether or not they need to seek care. Patients can use apps to access mental health services or learn about conditioning and weight training exercises as they recover post-surgery.
Before the patient even gets to the point of surgery, they could meet with the doctor who shares the individual’s X-rays or MRI results in real time to make the care experience more comfortable and people-centric. Data has an important role to play in this effort. Data analytics and intelligence can help providers to better understand the individual—what makes them different—so that they may provide more personalised services. When providers know more about a patient, people will feel their unique needs are being met. Data can also help connect the dots across care interactions (labs, visits, chart notes and more) to enable a longitudinal health record.
Embarking on a new frontier
We are all spending much more time on screens to interact with the world around us. The pandemic forced the need to deliver care at a distance. The industry moved to virtual care quickly. It helped solve many problems, but now it’s time to think bigger about the potential.
We believe healthcare organisations should consider three actions:
- Make high-tech interactions more "human" to avoid the sea of sameness
- Look for ways to use virtual to create new connections and healthcare rituals
- Harness human and technology ingenuity to empower patients
Start exploring these possibilities to be part of a new frontier of care that makes people feel cared for and connected at the same time.
Thank you to my colleague, Dr. Darryl Gibbings-Isaac, for sharing his expertise for this post.