Compassion vs. computers: Does it have to be a tug of war?

On the surface, interpersonal patient-provider relationships and healthcare IT would appear to work against each other. How can a provider be empathetic when she is fulfilling reporting requirements on an EHR? How can a patient forge a deep relationship with his GP when he relies primarily on patient portal interactions?

In support of this, a recent US survey of patients and healthcare providers has found that both rate skills like compassion and clinician empathy highly; with other US research showing that too much tech in the patient encounter can never be a good thing.

The first survey, which explored the elements most important when ranking doctors, showed that 85% of patients valued compassion in healthcare. Another 85% of patients said that doctors who are knowledgeable deserve high rankings.

In a separate part of the survey, doctors reflected similar values. While 91% of providers said that clinician compassion and empathy were very important in healthcare, 86% of doctors said the same of clinician expertise and knowledge.

“The greater the role that technology and artificial intelligence play in healthcare, the greater the responsibility that we and other leading technologists have to build machines that value compassion just as much as doctors and patients do.”

Most doctors agreed that being compassionate helped to enhance patient care, the survey showed. Ninety-four percent of clinician respondents said that being compassionate was key to ensuring patients followed doctor advice and improves patient health outcomes.

These survey results highlight the importance of bringing humanity to healthcare, said Ron Gutman, founder and CEO of California, US-based HealthTap, who carried out the study.

“‘Compassion’ isn’t a word that you hear very often in Silicon Valley, but this survey proves that it’s the most important principle in healthcare,” said Gutman in a statement. “The greater the role that technology and artificial intelligence play in healthcare, the greater the responsibility that we and other leading technologists have to build machines that value compassion just as much as doctors and patients do.”

Over two thirds of clinicians involved in another US study reported that current policies within the healthcare industry made it more difficult to deliver compassionate, patient-centred healthcare, with 63% of clinicians and nurses seeing a decline in compassionate communication, with 42% of patients reporting the same.

Survey administrators from the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, who conducted the study, suggested that hospital culture was a significant driving factor in improving physician empathy in the digital age. Additionally, better support for the healthcare workforce may also drive more clinician compassion, it said.

 Although the survey did not indicate any specific industry policies affecting patient-centred, compassionate care, many experts suggested that healthcare IT was a probable factor. Healthcare professionals are facing increasing calls to integrate more technology into the clinical encounter and the patient-provider relationship, it said.

 

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