Health IT design often undermined by lack of empathy for users, patients

By Welltok Marketing

It’s not a new idea to say that the use of information technology in healthcare is not yet delivering the results its early advocates were promising. But the leaders at Welltok have a new explanation why that is so: A lack of empathy.

Empathy can be engineered into all phases of healthcare according to Welltok’s Chief Technology Officer Brian Garcia and its Vice President of Design Aaron Sklar. They point to the traditional electronic health record design of drop down fields and buckets as a classic example of how empathy is missing from health IT.

“EHRs, that’s an easy one to pick on,” said Sklar, formerly at Healthagen. “You can see the intention was good, but empathy is missing.”

What’s also missing for the patients is the experience of being listened to and feeling connected to their doctors who are too overwhelmed with data-entering tasks to give patients their full attention.

While EHRs may becoming more useable, Sklar said they have to move from being useable to being useful. The next step then is to make them desirable to use.

“Empathy for all stakeholders is how we will get from usability to desirability,” Sklar said.

The better EHRs are described as “intuitive.” The not-so-good ones are called “clunky.” Sklar said intuitive is the outcome the industry is seeking, and “empathy is the tool to get there.”

Pop-up alerts are another example of how empathy is missing from healthcare IT. Sklar said pop-up fatigue is universal and not unique to healthcare and people have come desensitized to endless call of “Notice this. Notice this. Notice this.” The result is that people stop using an IT product, or shut off its alerts or just learn to ignore them and possibly miss important information in doing so, he said.

“Those types of alerts are symptoms of poor design or lack of empathy–you should save pop-ups for emergencies or something unusual,” Sklar said. “You should give information to people in the way they want to receive it and guide them instead of bossing them around or shouting at them.”

Welltok’s CaféWell Health Optimization Platform is used by population health managers to create personalized health itineraries. Sklar said he recently met with users who helped him better understand how empathy is needed in designing of CaféWell.

He visited a low-income family outside Memphis, Tenn. Having a computer program telling this household to “eat more nutritious food” wouldn’t be helpful or empathetic.

“For this particular family, healthy food is a luxury,” Sklar explained. “For the mom, if she gets the children to school safely while keeping a roof over their heads, it’s a victory.”

The experience taught him the importance of letting people set their own goals and to “meet them where they are.”

Healthcare designers have to be empathetic to who patients and IT users are, Sklar said. That means understanding what they’re trying to accomplish, what they just did, and what they are going to do next.


Learn more about the role of empathy in healthcare in this new eBook: 5 Best Practices for Engaging Consumer Design.5_best_preactices_book_v2.png


Original article appeared in MedCityNews on May 23, 2016.