Doctor and Digital: The Perfect Balance and Communication’s Role

The inaugural STAT Health Tech Summit was special not only because it was entirely virtual but because it focused on what I have always believed is key to great healthcare solutions: evolving to reflect patient needs.

From the power and peril of AI to different definitions of care and how the pandemic is pushing healthcare to digital platforms, the Summit focused on how patient needs change as the world changes. Technological innovations have been an amazing application of that evolution—one I’m lucky to experience first-hand through my work supporting communications for leading health tech companies and brands.

Throughout the two days of insightful conversation, one topic that stood out to me is how pivoting too quickly to telehealth or other digital solutions can leave critical care gaps—gaps that contribute to patient inaccessibility or a decline in patient relationships. With new digital innovations being incorporated into healthcare every day, particularly amid the dramatic changes related to COVID-19, it’s important for healthcare companies and doctors to evaluate, assess and address these gaps to ensure balance between scientific and technological innovation, the functional realities of representative care and maintaining the human element of the doctor-patient relationship.

Understanding the Gaps

In “An investor's guide to hype and hope in health tech,” Lisa Suennen, Co-founder and Managing Director of Psilos Group, and Kiersten Stead, Managing Partner DCVC Bio, urged businesses to “nurture” their foundations rather than shift all gears to virtual health—ensuring continuity for patients more reliant on traditional healthcare paradigms.

For example, while telehealth has provided incredible opportunities for those who could not previously access healthcare whether due to their location or a lack of access to transportation, there still exists those without access to the digital tools for telemedicine solutions. According to the American Medical Association, those less likely to have digital access are 85 or older, widowed, Black or Hispanic, enrolled in Medicaid, have a disability or haven’t received their high school diploma. Furthermore, more than a third of US households headed by a person 65 or older do not have a desktop or a laptop and more than half do not have a smartphone (Health Affairs).

Similarly, Megan Callahan, VP of Lyft Healthcare, shared during the Summit that a patient’s zip code can be a more important determinant of health than their genetic code. Zip codes can be a proxy for many factors that play a huge role in health, from access to healthcare resources or fresh food to air and water quality. While this can add valuable data to our understanding of each patient, it’s often through authentic conversation that we find how these factors truly impact patients’ journeys.

Communicating and Care Go Hand in Hand

For healthcare providers and companies to understand their patients and audiences and the factors that will allow them to access digital health tools, such as accessibility to the internet, tech devices or transportation, they can administer a randomized survey by phone, mail, email or in-person. This allows them to provide resources accordingly, from check-in phone calls, informative pamphlets via mail or a downloadable, Wifi-free app to house information and serve content. By seeking to understand on this level, companies can communicate with their audiences on a profound, personal level and build relationships based on empathy and compassion.

The more you can connect with your audience on a personal, relatable level, the more likely they are to have trust in you and your brand. I always counsel my clients to put themselves in the shoes of their audience – whether it’s a healthcare professional, patient or caregiver. You cannot think about what works for you. You need to really get involved, think about and use research to assess what it might be like to be 74 years old, without access to a computer and trying to schedule a virtual visit with you doctor.

Healthcare is truly more than giving information and treatment—it’s about building relationships and developing trust, a human element that can get lost exchanging electronic messages with the currently available provider. At the end of the day, doctors and healthcare companies need to meet patients where they are—not just at home, but emotionally and financially—and the offered digital tools must reflect patients’ accessibility to them.

In doing the research, promoting collaboration and engaging with thought leaders within the company’s space, patients will find that their journey is not only understood but valued—and that is what ultimately matters in terms of meeting their evolving needs.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Robyn Wellikoff, Vice President.

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