By Sven Larsen (@zemoga)
The medical community is learning a hard lesson: empathy. Doctors that are better at connecting are having higher success rates in treating patients. Med schools have figured out that their current methods of preparing young doctors can actually remove it. So we have medical researchers studying, measuring, tracking empathy.
The healthcare industry needs to learn this lesson too: they must bring empathy into their organizations. Pharma companies must see themselves as champions of the people taking their drugs. Guy posted about a practical example of this last month – improving package design for a better patient experience. But here are two ideas for how to make it work.
First, empathy driving accessibility.
We know that we must work on making our buildings accessible to everyone, regardless of physical limitations, and making our drugs available, regardless of financial or geographic condition. This is, of course, admirable. But what about making our information available – regardless of handicap or poverty or geography? The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s Web Accessibility Initiative is a great resource for helping to make sure that your sites are easy to use for people with a variety of disabilities. Perhaps you haven’t paid much attention to it since it was launched in 1997. But here’s a great example of its precepts in action: when you visitLucentis.com for Genentech’s treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration, you’re first prompted to choose a larger type or an audio tour. This is a great example of empathy informing practical work: thinking about what your patients’ daily lives are like before creating anything.
Second, empathy created by true experience.
We can sit and think, we can read, we can interview. But if we are fortunate enough not to have a serious medical condition, we do not know what it’s like. Imagine as hard as you can what it’s like to live with chronic pain, hearing loss, vision loss, schizophrenic hallucinations. As creative as you might be, you just can’t get there. But there’s an astoundingly simple way around this: to seek the counsel of people who can.Patients helping patients professionally – the concept marries the ideas of patient support with for-profit healthcare. What if a patient’s diagnosis didn’t just doom them to a medical condition, but could open up an empowering, meaningful career for them? Obviously there are privacy regulations within which it must be handled – but how can you get these hugely knowledgeable people on your team? As employees, as consultants, as volunteers – get the people with the condition to create the goods and services for people with the condition, and you can’t help but succeed.
Interesting ideas, but what do we do with them now, you ask? Do you want me to march into HR and demand that we start screening new hires for a battery of diseases? Not quite. Here are two practical steps.
Consider how you can bring information to your patients, and to those around them. For example, what about a diabetes education initiative to help children in high-risk inner cities learn what they can do, as part of their family, to help their parents with diabetes live a long and healthy life – and what they can do for themselves to reduce their risk of developing diabetes? Imagine how that might look, and how you could do something similar.
And consider how you can involve patients in your work. You’ve probably come into contact with patient spokespeople, with support group leaders, or even with people in your personal life who live with a condition, the treatment of which your job focuses. But how can you get their help to see what you’ve been missing – and what you can offer them? How can you invite people with that condition to become part of the process?