Our ability to empathize with the struggles and concerns of others is often described as a cornerstone of being human. “Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes,” identifying with them, and showing concern is one of the most basic ways we show that we care.
It follows then that such an act should be genuine – a demonstration of solidarity passed from one to another.
A startup in California believes that there may, however, be a place for technology in human empathy. And they’ve created a way for healthcare providers to project empathy to their patients without having to say a single word to them.
Those that have ever subscribed to an email marketing campaign are all-too-familiar with email automation. In a series of strategically planned, written, and executed emails, subscribers are led to believe that the emails were generated specifically for them. They use the subscriber’s name and can even reference specific details about the person based on information that the company might already have about them.
Yet these emails are sent completely autonomously. They are triggered by custom events, assembled by software, and sent at predetermined times in order to keep the company on the subject’s mind.
So why not do the same thing for the patient preparing for surgery or recovering from a medical procedure?
“Automated empathy” is the term coined for such a campaign and, according to CNN, it’s gaining more traction than some would have originally thought. Initial reactions, however, tend to be a bit more visceral.
Cara Waller, CEO of the Newport Orthopedic Institute in Newport Beach, California told the news channel that the first time she heard about automated empathy, it “almost made [her] nauseous.” However, desperate to find ways to maintain high quality health care for her practice’s 500 patients per year, she opted to give it a try. “If you do 500 joint replacements in a year,” she argues, “how do you follow up all of those patients every day?”
Apparently, you don’t. You just let an email server do it for you.
Still, there are some that feel that even if the emails fail to create an actual emotional connection, warning signs could still be detected in patient responses. This could catch dangers like blood clots and other complications before they become life threatening; cutting re-admission rates and leading to higher levels of Medicare and other health insurance reimbursement.
Either way, we anxiously await results of research on whether the use of emoticons affects response rates. Are you feeling 🙂 or 🙁 today? We only ask because we care.