As technology proliferates, human factors matter more than ever for healthcare

CLEVELAND – At the Cleveland Clinic and HIMSS Patient Experience Summit on Wednesday, two experts showed how skills of human interaction are essential to the success of organizational missions.

Technology is transforming communication, and artificial intelligence is becoming more mature and capable every day. But some bedrock human qualities are what will truly enable positive transformation for healthcare organizations: civility, respect, empathy, collaboration, storytelling.

Christine Porath, associate professor at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business and author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace; and Geoff Colvin, senior editor-at-large at Fortune and author of Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will, offered consecutive presentations here on Wednesday morning that shared some major themes.

As humans in healthcare adjust to a dizzying new digital era – where technology is evolving almost daily and impacting people in profound and often unappreciated ways – their talks offered some valuable advice for healthcare organizations looking to survive and thrive during this complex historical moment.

“Who do you want to be? Success depends on this one question,” said Porath. “How we treat people means everything.”

As technology encroaches on nearly every corner of human experience, Colvin said, it’s essential to maintain perspective. As AI matures – and in many cases edges out traditional areas human expertise – many are asking, “What will people do better than computers?”

The answer, he explained, is not to ask what computers can’t do. From computerized chess to autonomous vehicles, machines keep proving they can do more tasks than many ever expected.

“Ask instead, what humans are most driven to do,” he said. “No matter what technology can do, what is it that we most value based on what we are?”

Trust and respect, empathy and collaboration

“Skills of human interaction are becoming the most valuable skills in the economy, even as the technology advances,” said Colvin.

That fact speaks to the importance of Porath’s presentation, which made a persuasive case for the value of civility among colleagues in the workforce.

Toxic workplace culture – unfortunately not a rarity in healthcare, whose CEOs and high-paid surgeons aren’t always known for their empathy and humility – is not just demoralizing for hospital staff.

Small interpersonal actions can have a big impact on performance and the bottom line. The numbers tell the story. Porath pointed to one study that found when employees were treated with disrespect by their higher-ups, 80 percent lost some work time, 66 percent purposefully drew back on their efforts and 12 percent found a new a new place to work.

She noted that one hospital estimated, “conservatively,” that it lost $30 million per year thanks to that lost productivity. She offered another anecdote where a doctor shouted at a medical team – who were so flustered that they gave a wrong dosage to a patient, who later died.

“Medical teams exposed to rudeness performed worse” in their diagnostics and the success rates of their procedures, said Porath, often because they stopped sharing information with each other.

Conversely, when employees are treated with respect, they’re healthier, more focused, more likely to stay in an organization and more engaged in their day to day work.

“That sense of trust and respect is absolutely key,” she said.

Indeed, even as EHRs, telemedicine and AI continue to transform clinical practice, those core human qualities are exactly “what make us valuable,” said Colvin.

Machine learning algorithms may be maturing by the day, but there are some things they’ll never be good at, he said. Humans have cornered the market on three critical skills that are at the core of good healthcare:

Empathy. The ability to discerning what another person is feeling and thinking, and responding in an appropriate way, goes to the heart of what healthcare is.

Creative and collaborative problem-solving. “The problems are too complicated to do alone,” said Colvin. “What makes teams successful? The social sensitivity of the team members. Ability to read one another.”

Storytelling. “Good analysis of a lot of data is exactly what the technology is doing better all the time,” he said. “If you want to change people’s mind and inspire them to action, show them charts and graphs – but then tell them a story.”

Conversely, too much technology and digital connectedness, as the doctor looking at the EHR instead of the patient can attest, “may actually damage human skills,” said Colvin.

That’s the irony: “At exactly the moment when the value of human skills is increasing, the supply of those skills is declining,” he said. “But they are skills. And teams must get better at them.”

Healthcare has been improved immeasurably by technology, but it’s humanity – openness to new ideas, ingenuity, imagination – that are truly what matters. And as humans, those qualities exist in every one of us.

“We already have what it takes,” said Colvin. “And now it’s up to us to make the most of it.”

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: [email protected]

Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.

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