For a week in January, the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference was the epicenter of discussions about prevailing trends in healthcare.  Every year, the conference focuses on the big problems that health organizations are trying to solve and innovative solutions that can make a real impact.  Having devoted my career to improving communication in healthcare, I was delighted to see the topic of interpersonal care emerge at this year’s event.  Early into a featured panel discussion at the Digital Medicine & MedTech Showcase, Gregory Simon – President of the Biden Cancer Initiative – emphasized the importance of communication to improve interpersonal care.  

Interpersonal care focuses on people, not transactions: Remembering that care is provided by and for people; that personal connections are essential for turning heath transactions into healing relationships; that waiting for test results can be harrowing; that treatment plans can be confusing.   Leading health organizations strive to leverage the best interpersonal care and the best technological solutions to meet patient needs.  Sounds simple, but simple doesn’t mean easy.  Physicians and care teams are running harder than ever.  Patients and families have a lot to deal with in addition to any health issues.  Ideally, two keys to success will go hand-in-hand:

  • Make it easier to do better without taking longer.  Digital health solutions may be knock-your-socks-off impressive but will only be useful if they fit into the workflow or, better yet, truly streamline the flow for both providers and patients.  In today’s world, extra work – whether measured by time or clicks – will diminish uptake.  And extra work contributes to provider burnout, which is one of the next big problems to solve in healthcare.  
  • Understand what is important to patients and providers as people.  I call this the radical common sense of listening.  Gaining a deeper understanding of how people’s lives affect their health – and how health affects lives – will improve health and care.  For instance, it can help healthcare providers and health organizations better address the social determinants of health, another big problem to solve. In a sense, it all comes back to interpersonal care. 

At an event famous for fostering connections within and across healthcare, technology, and finance sectors, it was doubly powerful to reflect on the value of connections in the context of interpersonal care.  These connections can be facilitated and amplified by technology.  But they must be built for people dealing with real life.