“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” - Stephen Hawking

At HIMSS18, I was pleased to see patient engagement emerge as a central theme, another sign that the healthcare industry recognizes the essential role that patients have in managing their own care. Speakers, attendees and journalists focused on the need to empower patients to become active participants in partnership with their providers. One of my favorite presentations from Memorial Hermann and Cerner titled ‘Personalizing the Patient Experience Through Intelligence’ astutely acknowledged that although organizations may have unique strategies to engage patients, consumers, and members of an insurance plan, an individual may be all of those things at once; or they may flex between each depending on the time in their life. The need for the individual to not have the experience ‘feel different’ is a challenge and, of course, an opportunity.

Several conference sessions addressed new strategies and tools to more meaningfully engage patients in an effort to improve experiences and outcomes, exploring such topics as the role of empathy in patient-provider communication, exploiting data for more individualized care, and empowering patients for truly shared decision-making.

Some of the key topics and trends that caught my eye at HIMSS18:

Patient Health Data Access: CMS Administrator Seema Verma unveiled a major new CMS initiative, called MyHealthEData, aimed at getting health data into the hands of all patients for them to share as they want. MyHealthEData is part of the larger push to empower patients to more actively engage in their care by being able to control their data. “Patients need to be able to control their information and know that it’s secure and private. Having access to their medical information will help them make decisions about their care, and have a better understanding of their health,” said Verma.

Personalizing the Patient Experience: In today’s digitized and data-driven world, people expect companies to know them, offer relevant products and services, accurately anticipate needs, and appropriately tailor messages. The healthcare industry recognizes the need to catch up in this era of consumerism, and at HIMSS18 there was a great deal of talk about technology-enabled, human-driven strategies to support a scalable model for customized patient experiences. Chilmark Research Analyst Brian Eastwood tweeted and wrote about this topic extensively throughout the conference, noting:

“If there was a unifying theme to the preconference Patient Engagement & Experience Summit, it was the need to begin patient engagement efforts with a CHR (Collaborative Health Record) – one combining clinical, claims, consumer, financial, and patient-generated health data to provide a comprehensive view of a patient’s diagnoses, social determinants of health (SDoH), and barriers to receiving care. Record in hand, healthcare organizations (HCOs) can shift away from generic patient outreach – think portal message, email, or even snail mail flier – toward outreach that better meets patients’ individualized needs.”

Empathy Over Sympathy: Gone are the days of patting patients on the shoulder and telling them “I’m so sorry” when discussing a difficult diagnosis. Today, caregivers need to show empathy – not sympathy – when talking to patients. That was the key takeaway of the presentation on patient engagement by Dr. Rasu Shrestha, chief innovation officer at UPMC, and Santosh Mohan, head of athenahealth’s MDP Labs. The session addressed the difference between sympathy, which is a self-motivated, emotional response that can be disempowering for patients, and empathy, which is non-judgmental and communicates understanding, and made the case for why caregivers should learn specific empathy skills to improve their care of patients.

In adapting Stephen Hawking’s quote, when it comes to healthcare, I contend that the greatest enemy to empathy in healthcare is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowing what matters most to those we serve.

At PatientWisdom, Inc. we couldn’t be more pleased to see the conversations at HIMSS18 coalesce around the topic of engaging patients as people. We’ve built our company on the belief that listening to patients, individually and at scale, is the key to improving health and care. Our digital patient platform is designed to help providers do just that, easily and without requiring extra time. HIMSS18 was emblematic of an industry ready to be all ears.