HealthLoop has developed a technology dubbed by many as automated empathy that allows doctors to communicate with their patients in an automated way before or after medical procedures or after hospital stays. The technology, which provides guidance to patients in between office visits, is being piloted at Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser Permanente-Southern California, the University of California, San Francisco and the Newport Orthopedia Institute.

The idea is that it may be able to help improve patient outcomes and satisfaction—very important considerations in light of Affordable Care Act—as well as coordination of care. It can also assist with management of chronic diseases while at the same time helping hospitals and providers save time and money.

At first I was skeptical. The technology itself does not appear to be a radical innovation— it is a similar concept as direct e-mails that people can opt in to receive more information. Additionally—is automated empathy even possible?

Turns out it may be. HealthLoop allows doctors to communicate to their patients in what appears to be a more personal way. Using HealthLoop, doctors can customize language in pre-developed templates based on their patients’ condition. They can also ask patients for feedback on any issues they are facing during recovery, which can help prevent emerging issues.

While nothing can displace in-person communication and while there are no specific statistics supporting the concept of automated empathy given its novelty, it’s common knowledge that patients have a desire to be engaged as decision-makers in their healthcare and that those who are involved typically have improved outcomes. Providing the right information to patients that helps them connect to their healthcare providers is a very important component of this. This is where HealthLoop and other similar technologies can help.

This presents an opportunity for healthcare communications practitioners and clients, especially in chronic disease areas, where there is a need for patients to communicate with their doctors. This type of technology—when used as part of a campaign providing nurse practicioners or physicians as resources for patients—would enable more patient engagement. But before jumping in, there are a few rules of the road:

  1. In order to be successful, a two-way communication for patients who have follow-up questions has to be enabled.
  2. There is a risk of adverse event reporting but can it easily be mitigated by implementing an adverse event monitoring protocol on a daily basis.
  3. There is a possibility of receiving unwanted or negative commentary pertaining to a client brand. I recommend developing a triaging protocol for monitoring and addressing such queries, along with pre-approved language to be used on a reactive basis only.
  4. To make this truly a valuable tool, the voice of the KOL needs to remain authentic, empathetic and communications have to be customized to patients’ needs. Topics should be vetted by patients, nurses and doctors in advance.

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