How to Bring Human Connection Back to Healthcare

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Guest post by Motient co-founder Dr. Richard Watson

I once had an elderly patient who came to me following complicated heart surgery. She needed a very specialized procedure, and we sent her to a prestigious facility with a renowned medical team. She was from a small, rural farming community, and I wondered how she would react. I asked her what she thought of it all.

“Oh, it was wonderful!” was her response.

“What made it wonderful?” I asked.

“They took such good care of me!” she replied.

I was really glad to hear that, knowing how much effort it took to get her there. I imagine she was impressed by the system, or maybe by the quality of a surgeon. The facility itself had to be impressive.

So, I asked, “What made it so good?”

She said, “Every day in the afternoon, there was this nice woman who would come in and rub my back and talk to me. It was wonderful!.”

Amazing. Literally, hundreds of thousands of dollars had gone into her care. From the early diagnosis to the multiple consultations, to the lab work and the further diagnostics, eventually leading to extensive surgical treatment and rehabilitation. With all of that in the background, the thing that made her care wonderful- high quality in her eyes – was the woman who took the time to rub her back each day and talk to her daily.

And make a human connection.

I wonder who that woman was. Probably not part of the highly trained team whose responsibilities have made them less accessible to the patient. It probably wasn’t even part of this person’s job description. Here’s what it was, was one human being showing compassion for another human being—the essence of high-quality medicine. Human connection is something that can never be replaced or replicated by any technology.

Humanizing the Face of Healthcare  

As we are just now beginning to piece back together our health care system, our understanding of how important the people part of the equation has come forward. The isolation of social distancing, families with their loved ones passing alone, caregivers who are not in any real contact with their patients, a lot of people in healthcare watching their friends and colleagues leave the profession because of the risk and stress, all of which have taken their toll and left us wondering what healthcare will look like now.

The margin in the system as it relates to people has to be addressed. The ability of the hospital environment to expand and contract must be developed and incentivized. Cross-training of staff, training for different staffing levels, stratifying patients more thoughtfully to the varying staffing levels all are needed to maximize the people-to-people interaction during surges. Investing in the education of caregivers and career tracks for nurses that retain our most important part of healthcare is essential.

Creating an environment that allows mandates and excessive workloads to be the norm will disincentivize care teams and career nurses. The mobility of staff continues to be a challenge, but more so for future surges. The balance between pay and commitment must be realized. As salaries catch up, I think this will be less of an issue.

Turning Data into Useful Information & Better Decisions  

All these discussions need to be data-driven. Understanding the current stress on a health ecosystem is essential for making calculated, proactive, and justified decisions about patient care. Data-driven decisions offer a proactive way to identify the moment patient movements are needed to keep the system moving and intact.

People who run facilities need to understand their own capabilities and strengths. Patients need to be matched with the proper resources needed to care for them. Consider the regional need to understand capacity and capability and broadly understand how patients move within the system to utilize appropriate resources fully. The ability to make decisions based on data allows the ecosystem to expand and contract. It gives confidence and expectation to the people doing the hard work of caring for others.

It All Comes to This

No doubt, each of us will face a moment where we need someone to “rub our back.” It is a constant reminder that simple acts of kindness, even in the midst of the behemoth that health care has become, are what makes our lives rich.

Human beings caring for other human beings—that’s the essence of human connection in healthcare.

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