Technology is often positioned as the antithesis of humanity. Technology can’t feel, can’t think, and can’t acknowledge the nuances or emotions of the humans who interact with it. Technology is sometimes introduced to replace humans – as ATMs and self-service banking websites have obviated the need for many bank tellers and call center agents.
In healthcare, we hear too many stories of doctors and nurses being pulled away from their healing purpose as they struggle to meet documentation requirements in EHR systems designed to maximize billing potential and minimize liability with little thought for humanity. Many clinicians now fear that technologies distract them from the human-to-human interactions that drive purpose, connection, communication, and collegiality.
Technology Can Help Restore Humanity to Healthcare
In our view, technology has just as much potential to unleash humanity as to replace or hinder it – as long as it is applied thoughtfully. Members of the Experience Innovation Network’s Humanity and Technology Council are working on a set of evaluation criteria that will help ensure that technologies introduced into the clinical environment help to support the Connected Healing Ecosystem.
Solutions at the intersection of technology and humanity can help hospitals and care teams to:
- Reduce cognitive load. Care team members, like all people, can only process so much through their working memory. The more clinical details or task-related steps they have to process, the less team members can attend to the complex clinical and personal facts and factors that allow them to provide exceptional, empathetic care.i Technology solutions that help team members focus on the relevant clinical facts and protocols regarding patient care without having to search them out or hold them in memory enable meaningful dialogue and decision making at the frontlines of care.ii Mayo Clinic, for example, uses ambient intelligence tools to cut through the clutter of data in critical care units and help clinicians access the most relevant information based on their goals, work environments, strengths, and performance constraints.iii
- Unleash capacity. Intelligence-driven technology systems can offload routine tasks and decisions using rule-based algorithms.iv Solutions such as artificial intelligence platforms can identify likely workflow constraints including discharge delays, and provide informed, proactive prompts to help leaders align resources to emerging institutional needs. This not only creates capacity for patient throughput, it also frees human capacity to focus on critical but time-consuming elements of patient care such as communication and compassion. Natividad Medical Center, for example, uses machine learning and real-time analytics to streamline workflows in its ED, reducing left-without-being-seen rates by 42% and opening capacity for an additional 850 patients per year.v
- Enable communication. Communication is at the heart of healthcare. Solutions such as online scheduling, emails for routine questions, and remote monitoring help patients connect and communicate with their care teams between visits. And solutions that marry voice and secure texting with workflow rules help care team members share the information required to optimize patient care in real time. Vancouver Island Health Authority, for example, found that physicians responded 1.5 minutes faster to messages in a Vocera smartphone app than to pages, with fewer interruptions to patient care.vi
- Support compassion. When care team members aren’t tied to clunky computer interfaces or mired in inefficient workflows, they are more able to connect with patients and express the compassion and empathy that take patient care from excellent to exceptional. Technology can play a role in helping care team members replenish energy and compassion resources. Many solutions are available that allow care team members to regain presence and focus when things get hectic. Solutions that integrate support for care team members without requiring them to log into additional platforms generate more usage and a more holistic user experience.
The concepts outlined above will allow technology to support team member well-being instead of contributing to burnout. Our research shows that one of the key system-level factors influencing team member well-being is the extent to which leaders work to minimize the unnecessary trauma caused by poorly designed systems, including technology. vii
Assessment and Measurement Are Key to Optimizing Technology’s Humanizing Potential
For healthcare leaders to ensure that technology enhances rather than detracts from health professionals’ healing potential, two key steps need to happen:
- Clinical and IT leaders need to consider the human impact of technology in their approaches to selecting and implementing technology. This includes looking at interface usability (are key tasks or data readily and intuitively available?)viii , implications for workflow (does the technology add steps or streamline broken processes?)ix , and whether effort and value are aligned (does the person doing the work of using the technology get the benefit of that effort?). Our Humanity and Technology Council members are creating a set of evaluation criteria and implementation best practices to minimize the unintended consequences of otherwise well-intentioned technology decisions.
- Clinical and IT leaders need to measure the impact of technology on team member well-being and patient-family experience. Beyond traditional HCAHPS and employee engagement surveys, J. Bryan Sexton, PhD at Duke, in partnership with the National Taskforce for Humanity in Healthcare, has created a short, validated survey instrument that measures team member thriving and recovery. This kind of survey can be deployed before and after implementing a new technology to gauge its impact on team member well-being. xi
We envision a future in which healthcare technology decision makers consider the human impact of technology in their selection, implementation, and support processes.
In addition to the ideas outlined above, what do you see at the intersection of humanity and technology? We welcome your insights! Click one of our social media icons to start or join the conversation: #HumanizeHealthcare #H2T