This Week Health
Todd Johnson

Today on Insights. We go back to a conversation Host Bill Russell had with Todd Johnson, CEO of HealthLoop. The topic of discussion was Empathy in the Design of Digital Tools. How do we create healthcare software that has soul? That really speaks to not just the minds of patients but the hearts.


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Hello and welcome to another episode of Insights. My name is Bill Russell. I'm a former CIO for a 16 hospital system and creator of This Weekin Health IT. A channel dedicated to keeping health IT staff current and engaged. Our hope is that these episodes serve as a resource for the advancement of your career and the continued success of your team. Now onto the show.

Today on Insights. We go back to a conversation host Bill Russell had with Todd Johnson, CEO of HealthLoop. The topic of discussion was empathy in the design of digital tools. How do we create health with software that has soul? That really speaks to not just the minds of patients but the hearts.

So when we first met the thing that struck me was you talked about empathy in design. Empathy in the design of digital tools and how that could really extend the empathy of the, creator empathy of the organization to those patients. Can you give our listeners a little background on that concept?

I'll share a story of how I learned the value here. You know empathy and design is a simple concept. Put yourself in the shoes of the user, right. And try to experience their day, their life, their concerns through their eyes and try to meet them with a solution that's going to be really assisted, helpful and productive for them.

And moving to Silicon Valley is a bizarre experience, right? It's a crazy world here. And I was out on the fundraising circuit for our series A financing. Years ago. And I had the opportunity to pitch to Greylock Ventures which is a big venture capital group here in the valley. And one of their partners is a guy named Josh Helman. And Josh was the Principal Product Designer at Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I did a demonstration of HealthLoop and at that moment in time, HealthLoop was really about how do we identify the patients that need help?

And it was a really clinical mindset. It would be like, Bill, what's your weight today? Bill, did you take your meds today? Do you have any chest pain today? All about getting information from me. And he said, Todd, the problem with your software is it has no soul. I said, okay, what does that mean? And he says, when we designed LinkedIn or we designed Facebook every single time a user interacted with a screen, we tried to make sure that there was a tone and a voice and a familiarity and we treat our product as if it's a thoughtful, compassionate person.

I reflected on that and said, HealthLoop is in the software. HealthLoop is like the best nurse you've ever had and she's compassionate and she's thoughtful and she knows that you're in pain and she knows that you're scared and she knows that you have questions. And we really flipped in our mind what it meant to be a user of this technology and started to invest in a content team of physicians and nurses and we call them empathologists right, to script these experiences that acknowledge what our patient's going through and put it through a tone in a voice that could be helpful to them. And then I think on the professional side, there's a sort of another view on this is, from the provider experience I think all too often nurses and PAs and doctors feel like they're on a treadmill. One patient to the next. One patient to the next. And one of the things that we believe, I think many people believe is that clinician burnout may be one of the biggest risks to our healthcare delivery system.

What we experienced with HealthLoop was that patients were really impressed with this experience. Like, wow, my doctor's checking in on me every day. I've never seen anything like that. And so we capture from patients their sentiment, right? Gratitude. And serve it back to doctors, nurses, medical assistants, we call it patient love.

And it's this continuous feedback loop that really reminds clinicians that what they're doing there, what their work is, it matters, their patients adore them. They're grateful. And it is a very, very powerful thing for physicians and their teams to see when they participate with HealthLoop.

Let's assume I'm a CIO who's chosen to create my own portal or my own experience for patients. What process would you coach me to take to ensure that my design has a deep understanding of the person and empathy towards the person that's going to be using it?

Yeah, I guess I'll start by saying, I think we've really missed in this domain, right? The version one of portals is really taken what electronic medical records are really good at, which is storage and retention of data for patients. And expressed that data to patients, like what are my lab results? What are my test results?

But really, I think what patients are worried about is when will I get better? What does this new diagnosis mean for my life? Right? Am I going to live? What are the side effects? And so the patient's concerns aren't what is their test result. It is what's going to happen to me? And so I think the first thing that I would recommend to CIOs is think about a window through which patients are meeting you.

And again, segmentation matters. If I'm a healthy millennial that just needs to take care of a transactional issue, then boy, that should be fast, convenient, easy, quick, delightful. But if I'm a cancer patient, it needs to be very, very different. So segment your market and bring the solutions. And the other thing, we're seeing this trend of health systems now wanting to build their own portal, right. Build their own front door. The digital on-ramp to the health system. And I was in a round table with the CEO of a large health system in the Southeast a couple of weeks ago, he says we are going to build the best tools and give patients exactly what we need by owning the patient.

We're going to give them everything we need. We're going to own the patient. And I think it's so short-sighted because patients, when they go through particularly higher acuity episodes of care, you're often not their only provider. Right. They need to see this skilled nursing facility,.This physical therapy group.

And so I think health systems need to adopt a mentality that they are an important part of the patient's experience but they're not the only part. So they should make it frictionless for other providers across their community to collaborate around best outcomes.

If we want our technology you know, to have a soul, as you described it earlier, the EHR is the most predominant pervasive technology we have. What could we do to give it a soul to really see the journey of the physician and the journey of the clinician who are really struggling at the hands of the EHR today. Do you think there's anything we could do there?

Yes. So I was sort of daydreaming in response to some of your other questions around what can we do better to serve our healthcare professionals? Can you imagine this for a second? How long have we been in the world of high-tech and meaningful use? For probably about a 10 year, 12 year?

Can you imagine what our clinical tools would be like if that program was designed around a couple of very, very simple drivers. One is, step one provider organization. All your orders and medical information needs to be digitized. It needs to be on demand and available digitally. We don't care how you do it but it needs to be digital. Second, you're going to get a bonus payment depending on how your physicians, nurses and staff rate their experience with the EMR. Right. How delighted is the doctor with the EMR? How delighted is the nurse with the EMR? Because the satisfaction with EMR is across the country by clinicians. They typically have a negative net promoter score, right?

People are not thrilled with these tools. And what if that was the driver for how you get rewarded with more money is that your clinicians love this. And then the third rail to make sure that this serves our communities well is let's just look at patient satisfaction. And make sure that is also a big lever in those.

So just imagine the types of tools that a CIO would be able to purchase or build if that was the driving economic force behind the adoption. And that's just not been the case. Right. So I think just going back to some simple, simple ideas that the people that use these technologies, the more we can delight and impress them and help them be efficient, the better off we'll be.

With this digital empathy, with these tools that have empathy built in, talk to me about the level of engagement that you've seen with these kinds of tools and with their physician.

Yeah. You can continuously measure engagement and I think there's some cohort of individual that is just going to always be the good patient, which means whenever their doctor reaches out to them and ask them to do it, they will do it. No matter how poor the experience is. No matter how irrelevant it is.

And that's maybe 17 to 20% of people are just sort of intrinsically motivated to be responsive and courteous and quick to respond. So that leaves a huge spectrum of work to do. And I think the keys to engagement are simpler than we want them to be. Sometimes it's, are we delivering something that's pertinent and relevant to me right now?

Right? Is this useful? And think about the ways that hospitals typically engage with patients in the post acute phase. It's a robo call. Maybe it's an age cap survey. Like I don't care about any of that. Right. But when humans are helping reaching out to, or technologies are reaching out to patients to provide relevant, pertinent, useful information for right time. Patients want that.

Patients don't want bad outcomes. Patients don't want to spend more than they need to on their healthcare costs. And so as long as they feel like it's a useful pertinent, relevant and personalized interaction they're on board. It's not that hard. You just have to meet them with what they need and where they are.

Wow, thanks for tuning in another great episode. If you have feedback for us regarding this content and materials, or if you would like to help us to amplify great thinking to propel healthcare forward, which is our ???? mission, please send us a note at [email protected] Thanks for listening. That's all for now.

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