Common sense and empathy – also needed in the age of digital health?

Everybody needs that human touch. Even more so in the age of digital health. So. That was the given question and my headline in February 2020. My abstract was accepted. I hit the keys for the final time. Polished sentences, a carefully spun red thread woven into a solid dramaturgy. At least I thought so. And then came Corona. And my abstract suddenly seemed abstract, outdated, void. “Human touch?!” …the word “touch” alone sets off all the alarm bells. Suboptimal. Write about COVID-19 now? No. Many other people can do that much better than I can. Nevertheless, it was not possible to write completely past the pandemic: the Swiss Corona Lockdown put the crown on the limpness of my text. The text was obsolete. A fact, no big deal. Off I went to the next iteration. I was able to sporadically write sustainably and recycle a few sentences. For example, these: “Health concerns us all, even before we are declared patients and given a number and our story disappears somewhere in a patient file. Maybe in a federal folder, a hanging register or – depending on the region and institution – actually digitised.” I discreetly snarked against the digital maturity of our health system and the familiar sick versus healthcare debate. In the knowledge that many clever minds have already been tackling this issue for decades and that there are partly good reasons why Switzerland, although swinging to the top of various innovation rankings, has not yet been able to keep up with the digitally exponential seven-league pace across the board. And further: “The Swiss healthcare system is considered one of the best in an international comparison.1 Statistically, we are part of a relatively healthy population.2 Thousands of health professionals do excellent work day and night.” You bet! We have all realised that by now, haven’t we? “We have knowledge, experience and, theoretically, resources. Measured by GDP per capita, Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world3, (…)” Also post-Corona. Unfortunately, this is of no use to anyone who is currently fighting for their economic existence or has already lost this fight. I went on to say that Switzerland is (…) “also rich in diversity, with a strong democracy and living federalism. This construct is not only complicated, but complex. That is precisely why common sense and empathy are needed, both in practical everyday life and in political-economic debates. Digitalisation requires analogue change.” No futurologist or crystal ball reader had predicted how fast both analogue and digital change can happen in his 2020 forecast. Wonderful analogue things are happening right now. A wave of solidarity. (With all due respect. Sometimes I quietly ask myself: “People. What reality did you live in before Corona, please?”. And then I slap myself on the wrist. There are no right, wrong, big or small realities. There is only reality, and that is individual. So if you want to post your contribution to neighbourly help on social media, you can). So let’s help each other and hopefully all stay healthy in the process. Flatten the curve. Yes. Absolutely! Linear downhill please. Keep your common sense and empathy, continue to shop for – or, as soon as it becomes reasonable again, even better, with! – go shopping for the elderly neighbour. The wave of solidarity should not subside. Because even after the crisis, grandma doesn’t want to shop online or have a talking fridge based on the FIFO principle and automatic reordering. She wants to be able to walk the few steps, move her bones, maintain muscles and fill up on vitamin D. Maybe she doesn’t want that so explicitly. But she wants to be able to live independently and self-determined. Walking instead of surfing. Have the odd neighbourhood chat: Her highlight of the day. Her daily human touch. She also wants to be able to shake hands with her trusted doctor again. Telemedicine suddenly works perfectly, but “it’s not quite the same thing The crisis caused the digital transformation, which was sluggishly shuffling along in many places, to shift up a few gears and the transformation engines to roar. In certain offices with leading roles in the current crisis, it is well known that fax machines were also running at full speed. It is possible that by the time this report is published, these events will be a thing of the past. We wish it for us and the Corona statisticians in the federal fax centre alike. Some people were not only isolated in the crisis, but in parallel, similar to a metamorphosis, became digital overnight. Here, too, missed by many the longer the more painfully: empathy. People of flesh and blood. The daily routine of real life. There is still no credible proof of concept for digitalised empathy, despite an impressive rollercoaster ride in recent years on Gartner’s hype cycle for new technologies,4 up to the so-called plateau of productivity. Algorithms can recognise sad faces, but to my knowledge no one has ever really managed to cheer them up. The transmission of warmth from the heart works in an analogue way. This is not only true for digital health: A wealth of possibilities should make everyday life easier for healthy patients and health professionals, in order to live true customer-centricity with the (really?) gained time. Customer-centricity? Please don’t draw a circle for it, put a patient in the centre and paint a cloud over it and all is well. Many want to be taken along on the health journey as experts of their own lives, at eye level with the medical scientific experts. They want to co-develop technological solutions and want participatory decision-making, or depending on the literature: Shared Decision Making. The so-called e-patients movement has been advocating this approach for over 15 years. The “e” stands for equipped, enabled, empowered and engaged. Digital approaches can support, but empathy and common sense also play a central role here. For and from all sides. The Corona pandemic has given additional impetus to digital health. This is not rocket science. Crises and drastic policy changes drive innovation. Inevitably. The oft-cited digital transformation example of Estonia is at least a decade ahead of us, for good reason. We remember the Swiss federalism mentioned at the beginning. We do not have e-government à la e-Estonia, which had the rare good fortune of starting from scratch with its independence almost 30 years ago. And yes. There are definitely no fax machines there today. Pointing the finger at others is easy. However, some gentle nudging (please only after COVID-19!) in the sense of Thaler’s5 nudging approach is allowed. Let us try to sustainably carry the digital momentum and find a healthy digital-analogue balance. Health will imply digital approaches in the future anyway, based on technical-scientific progress, mind and heart. Stay healthy!


References

  • Euro Health Consumer Index 2018
  • World Health Statistics 2019: Monitoring health for the sustainable development goals
  • World Population Prospects 2019, Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations
  • Gartners Inc: Gartner Hype Cycle: Interpreting technology hype
  • Thaler, R: Nudge. Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Yale University Press LTD (2008)

AUTOR/AUTORIN: Cordelia Trümpy

Cordelia Trümpy works in the Innovation & Communication department of the Diabetes Center Berne. The business economist and certified nutritionist HF knows the Swiss healthcare system from the perspective of hospital, rehab, pharma, healthcare and medtech industry, networked in the world of healthcare startups, engaged in various initiatives of the healthcare ecosystem. She teaches in the field of nutrition and dietetics / marketing, eHealth (BFH, ikf Luzern).

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