Want to Hug Your Health Data?

The other day, the Zip team attended the MSP Business Journal Healthcare Update Forum at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis. It was a well assembled panel of MN healthcare leaders:

  • Dr. Kenneth Holmen, CEO of CentraCare Health
  • Barbara Joers, CEO of Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare
  • Philip Kaufman, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota
  • Dr. Craig Samitt, CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota
  • Troy Simonson, CEO of Twin Cities Orthopedics

Early in the discussion, Philip Kaufman made a comment about how consumers need better health data to improve engagement/costs/etc.  

Data is important, but I was struck by how disconnected this sounded. Philip isn’t alone – many leaders in the healthcare space carry this perspective about the role of data in our lives. But after years of working with provider organizations, and knowing or being a patient, it just doesn’t feel applicable to most healthcare decisions.

Health Data for Comfort

I asked myself “when was the last time I used a white-paper or clinical trial data to make a healthcare decision?” Not once. Now, maybe when I need a heart transplant I would do research on the best options for me (like my uncle is doing now…), but much of it isn’t about the data. It’s about “where’s the best place?” or “who’s the best doctor for…”  

If you unpack this a bit, it’s really about emotions. Trust. Stopping the pain. Grappling with the sobering fragility and finiteness of our lives. Fear of the unknown. Human responses to uniquely human afflictions.

Candidly, I’ve never once run to my database or spreadsheet when I’m scared or hurting. I run to someone I love & trust. I hug my mom. I reach out for my wife. I turn to my friends.

Which gets at, what I believe, a perspective flaw in digital health experience design: data and logic over empathy and humanity. And I’m not leaving us out of the accountability pool. I, too, suffer(ed) from the same bias in designing Zipnosis as Philip suffers as he seeks a more engaged patient population.  

Empathy First

At Zipnosis, we’ve come a long way in terms of incorporating empathy into our platform, but today, I’m challenging us to go further. It’s time to take the reins and build experiences rather than technologies.

As we make product choices, we must ask ourselves what fundamental, human emotional need does it meet at that moment in the patient’s journey. It may not be elegant – but it will be effective.

When a customer (patient or provider) requests a feature, their reasons aren’t typically logical but emotional. A provider who needs to ask one more question has an underlying sense of duty to treat a patient as best as possible. A patient who wants to give context around their symptoms or health history wants to get the care they need.  

As our team works toward our vision of making Zipnosis the undisputed standard in virtual care, we must acknowledge that we won’t succeed unless and until we put human and emotional needs first.

As with many challenges in healthcare technology, there are no quick fixes here. But I believe that we – not just Zipnosis, but companies all across the healthcare space – have a duty to put patients’ needs first. That means  addressing their clinical concerns with quality and precision (hello, data!) and meeting their emotional needs with empathy and understanding.

‘Cause even the hottest data model in the world can’t hug it out with you.

About the Author

Jon Pearce is co-founder and CEO of Zipnosis. As a healthcare entrepreneur with experience in med-tech start-ups and as a venture analyst, he is focused on leveraging the power of technology to improve the way health systems engage with and treat their patients.