Keeping empathy at the heart of health technologies

By Michael Meissner, GM/VP 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 shifted from face-to-face to screen-to-screen. But the influence of technology on our lives and personal relationships didn’t stop there. The rapid shift to technology-based interaction has changed the trajectory of nearly every industry, including health-related fields.

Working in the field of medical devices, I have seen firsthand how patients and physicians around the world have quickly adapted amid the pandemic. In many ways, the pandemic has rearranged the landscape, allowing businesses to grow in new ways. Our increasingly technological environment provides an opportunity to grow our business initiatives.

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

Pandemic pushes acceptance of technology

The pandemic has simultaneously forced us to rethink how we connect with others and change our behavior. It created a catalyst for new ways of thinking and working. Every industry has had to pivot quickly, deploying new or adapted technology solutions for customers and colleagues.

Yet consider how quickly technological acceptance followed. People have become more willing and adept at using technology for tasks they had never considered before. Organize virtual meetings. We’ve improved to set them up, join them, and turn them off at the appropriate times. Creating behavioral change under normal circumstances can be difficult, but when we were forced to adapt, we did it quickly. Adoption and willingness to use the technology is increasing.

A study published by Rock Health shows that these trends align in telemedicine as well. The study reports that 73% of previous telemedicine users “indicated that they expected to use it at the same rate or more in the future.” I have also seen this adoption take place in the medical device space, due to the rise in interest and use of remote device programming. The FDA approved one of my company’s products almost 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 see it as necessary. However, during the pandemic, usage increased as this technology helped limit the potential spread of the virus between patients and healthcare professionals.

Because of the pandemic, the needle has moved far and fast. Without Covid-19, I suspect it would have taken five to ten more years to reach the current level of consumer and physician acceptance of such technology.

the possibilities are limitless

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

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

Yet the patient does not need to set foot in a clinic or even dial a phone number. Before the advent of remote monitoring, clinicians typically received updates from patients with pacemakers and defibrillators a few times a year when they visited the clinic. Now, clinicians get data all the time, allowing them to monitor the patient more closely and adjust their device as needed.

And that provides a major opportunity in the medtech industry as a whole. With an increased amount of data, we need new solutions to manage and analyze it all. Healthcare professionals don’t have the time to wade through millions of pieces of data while providing quality patient care. This means companies need to step up and provide additional solutions to manage data.

We are on the verge of a medtech Big Bang. For businesses that can fit into 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 that for ancillary tech industries that have similarly grown due to the pandemic, and you can see the potential for growth.

Creating technology with heart

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

Technology will never replace the value of human interaction – we yearn for human connection. When it comes to health, 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 a soda from a vending machine. For patients with heart conditions who are making important life decisions, such as having a heart device implanted, it is comforting to know that there is someone on the other end of the line who can help if needed.

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

Empathy is often undervalued and misunderstood. It’s easy to get lost in numbers or systems and forget the purpose of technology: the people who use it. Compassion for consumers is not just an expression or a marketing tool; it must be the reason for everything we do as tech professionals. In health 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.

Undoubtedly, technology will be the solution to many of our problems as we look to the future. Truly successful medtech companies will be able to keep up with the changing times while keeping people at the heart of it all.

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