Keeping empathy at the heart of healthcare technology

By Michael Meissner, GM/VP of Patient Management, Medtronic Heart Rhythm Management.

The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly changed the way we interact with others. For many, homes have turned into offices (and schools), and meetings have moved from face to face to screen to screen. But the influence of technology on our lives and personal connections didn’t stop there. The rapid shift to technology-based interaction has changed the trajectory of almost every industry, including healthcare-related fields.

Working in the medical device space, I’ve seen firsthand how patients and doctors around the world have quickly adapted amid the pandemic. In many ways, the pandemic has reorganized the landscape, allowing companies to expand in new ways. Our increasingly technological environment provides an opportunity to expand our business initiatives.

Overall, the purpose of technology is to help people solve critical and unmet needs. However, we cannot forget what is at the center of it all: the human element.

Pandemic drives acceptance of technology

The pandemic has simultaneously required us to rethink how we connect with others and change our behavior. This created a catalyst for new ways of thinking and working. All sectors had to turn quickly, deploying new or adapted technology solutions for customers and colleagues.

Still, consider how quickly technological acceptance followed. People have become more willing and adept at using technology for tasks they had never considered before. Hold virtual meetings. We’ve gotten better at configuring them, merging them, and muting them at appropriate times. Creating behavior change under normal circumstances can be difficult, but when we were forced to adapt, we did it quickly. Adoption and willingness to use technology is growing.

A study published by Rock Health shows that these trends also align in telemedicine. The study reports that 73% of past telemedicine users “indicated that they expect to use it at the same rate or more in the future.” I’ve also seen this adoption in the medical device space related to the increase in interest and use of remote device programming. The FDA approved one of my company’s products nearly six years ago: remote programming of implantable cardiac electronic devices, which allows these devices to be adjusted remotely. But the technology was initially not widely used because doctors did not consider it necessary. However, during the pandemic, use has increased as this technology has helped limit the potential spread of the virus among patients and medical professionals.

Because of the pandemic, the needle has moved far – and fast. Without Covid-19, I imagine it would take another five to 10 years to reach the current level of consumer and physician acceptance of this technology.

The possibilities are endless

Connected devices provide greater amounts of data and obtain it more easily than humans could manually collect. Your smartwatch counts your steps and tracks your run. Your phone knows all the apps you used and how much time you spent scrolling. Data is part of our daily lives.

The same is true for many patients with medical devices connected to smartphones, which allow remote monitoring, meaning that data from a patient’s heart device can be sent to the healthcare team – several times a day if necessary.

Still, the patient doesn’t need to step foot into a clinic or even dial a phone number. Before the advent of remote monitoring, physicians typically received updates from patients with a pacemaker and defibrillator a few times a year when they came to the clinic. Doctors are now constantly getting data, allowing them to keep an eye on the patient and adjust their device as needed.

And that offers a huge opportunity in the medical technology industry in general. With an increasing amount of data, we need new solutions to manage and analyze it all. Healthcare professionals don’t have the time to sift through millions of data while providing quality care to patients. This means companies must step up and provide additional solutions to manage data.

We are on the cusp of a medtech Big Bang. For companies that can find their place in this space, there is a huge opportunity. From developing AI solutions to creating new workflows, the possibilities created by remote monitoring technology alone are enormous. Now extrapolate this to ancillary industries across the tech sector that have similarly expanded due to the pandemic and you can see how much potential growth there is.

Creating technology with heart

Still, it’s important to remember that technology for technology’s sake will not be enough. As human beings, we still need solutions designed with empathy and that provide a “human touch”. Whether it’s an implanted heart device or gaming software, we’re tasked as technology professionals with keeping the human element intact.

Technology will never replace the value of human interaction – we crave human connection. When it comes to healthcare, we want a relationship with our care provider and a face we know and trust. Health is deeply personal, tangible and profound. It’s not like buying a lottery ticket or soda from a vending machine. For patients with heart problems who are making major life decisions, such as having a heart device implanted, it is comforting to know that there is a person on the other side who can provide support when needed.

So how do we create the technology that has the biggest impact? We need to practice empathy.

Empathy is often undervalued and misunderstood. It’s easy to get caught up in numbers or systems and forget the reason behind the technology – the people who use it. Compassion for consumers is not just a marketing phrase or tool; should be the reason for everything we do as technology professionals. In healthcare technology, we need to deploy technology that enables and empowers physicians to spend quality time with their patients during critical moments – the epitome of human connection.

Without a doubt, technology will be the solution to many of our problems as we look to the future. Medical technology companies that are truly successful will be able to keep up with changing times while keeping humans at the center of it all.

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