The Art of Listening: Is Your Digital Front Door Open for Empathy?

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Bob Abrahamson, Chief Marketing Officer

Digital Health and Virtual Care have exploded during the past 18 months.  The points of engagement across the continuum continue to expand, creating more opportunities for care collaboration driving toward better outcomes.  Yet as a nation, we have never been more divided.  Many people point to technology in the form of social media as a driving force behind this polarization.  It’s one thing people do agree upon as shown in this recent poll.  Our challenge is to be vigilant in the use of technology.   We must engage in 2-way conversations with patients; listening first.

I admit to being caught off guard by the level of vaccine hesitancy in the US.   But there is historical precedence as outlined in this NY Times article.  That was encouraging.  We also know that speaking AT people does not work.   It is useless to share the science with someone who is not ready to take in that information.   Before you can change a mind, you must understand that mind.  That means listening empathetically, with no judgement. 

Strategies That Work

The CDC has provided a simple 4-step approach to addressing vaccine hesitancy anchored in motivational interviewing.  This methodology can be effectively leveraged to address any health issue.   The key is to frame the conversation in what is important to the patient; addressing any concerns the patient may have, while offering treatment recommendations through the lens of the patient’s individual goals and drivers.  Sometimes it’s a carrot – get the vaccine to attend a family gathering.  Sometimes it’s a stick – get the vaccine or get fired.  In either case, you can present the science (it’s safe) within the context of what is important to the patient – time with family or job security.

This approach is working for providers in challenging environments.  Missouri was slammed earlier this summer with the Delta variant.  In a state with high vaccine hesitance, the providers at MU Health took a listen first approach that they shared throughout the system.   Additionally, this story shows how Saline Health System in Arkansas was able to drive vaccine rates by emphasizing empathetic listening amongst their staff.

Enhancing the Digital Experience

So, what does this mean for your consumer facing technology stack?   If you agree that impactful collaborative care needs to be patient centric, then you’ll want to arm all stakeholders with information on what is important to the patient.   You need to ask and listen throughout the journey.  This can start at intake.  If a patient is online making an appointment for hip pain, go beyond capturing pain levels and ability to perform ADLs (Activity of Daily Living).  Provide space for the patient to share what the hip pain may be preventing him from doing.  Why not get some information on attitudes/preferences regarding surgery, conservative care, and pain meds right at the outset that can guide future consults? 

When we invite patients to a digital journey in our pCare Ambulatory experience, as part of the “intake” process we ask patients to share their goals with. This information is then made available to the entire care team who can use it to frame future interactions.   Furthermore, collection of this data can be fed and trained into new ML algorithms which can help providers develop personalized care plans in consideration of disease progression, identified personal preferences, and modeled outcomes data.

The key is to never stop asking and listening.  When patients are in your facilities, soliciting real time feedback has proven effective for capturing patient concerns and addressing them in the moment.  This can translate into improved HCAPHS scored as shared in this case study.  And this feedback can be solicited in multiple ways – from pop-up messages on a television, via staff rounding , or even using QR Codes on personal devices – a story that was shared at this webinar

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