Society Insights

More empathetic, connected healthcare

The trend

In the healthcare sector, we can define empathy as the capacity of the system to create a human pathway based on relationships with patients and an understanding the emotional concerns that worry them. In this sense, listening and trust come into play, which are central aspects to making the patient journey a more effective one in terms of therapeutics and care. In fact, any number of studies that show, for example, that when patients have a good relationship with their doctor, they’ll be more willing to accept the medications and therapies he or she prescribes, leading to better health outcomes. But doctors and other healthcare professionals (HCPs) have little time to spend with their patients, and the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation even further. What’s more, the upsurge in digitalization and the push toward virtual care has created distance between doctors and patients, making it more complicated to build an empathetic relationship.
But at the same time, if used wisely, new technologies offer a variety of channels for listening to patients’ questions and concerns. To explore the use of these tools, Ipsos conducted a recent survey. This research investigated the unmet emotional needs of patients, shining a light on situations in which they feel the biggest empathy gap in their relationship with their doctor.

Key takeaways

Social media is where patients interact and share authentic healthcare experiences, so reams of useful data are available, both in terms of quality and quantity. With its social monitoring tool Synthesio, Ipsos mined content generated on various platforms (Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook, and various health-related forums) to find out what people really need during their patient journeys.

Based on an analysis of 18,000 posts and comments published by users in the US, the study identified five core themes underpinning patients’ unmet needs: 1) Uncertainty about health-related questions can arise at any time, especially when patients can’t talk directly to their HCP. So people look online to find answers and to calm their fears. 2) The availability of the web is 24/7, so users turn to the internet or social media for quick information to relieve their worries and get answers any time, day or night. 3) Validation, in the digital space, of their concerns gives patients reassurance, especially when they don’t feel heard or understood by their HCP. 4) Sharing experiences online with people who have faced the same health issues creates a sense of 5) belonging: knowing what others think, say, and do helps users navigate the stages of their disease.

The dataset of the survey highlights that the main emotions people feel are worry, confusion, fear and sadness. All too often, in fact, healthcare professionals actually have a negative impact on the patient experience. Patients feel like they’re not understood, not heard; they feel neglected because the lack of communication means they can’t get answers to their questions on how to manage and monitor their health. All this elicits a sense of disconnect and unmet expectations that leaves patients disappointed with the care and with the attention they’re receiving.

In light of the evolution in personal health management, which is becoming increasingly digitalized and virtual (and it’s happening outside of doctors’ offices), healthcare systems must activate more attentive and effective listening channels placing patients, in all their complexity, at the center.

More empathetic, connected healthcare