July 24, 2018

Technology and innovation can—and should—drive compassionate healthcare

A social entrepreneur is helping to change the way underserved and multilingual populations access medical care

ConsejoSano uses technology to address the needs of multicultural patients. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

I founded ConsejoSano, which means “healthy advice” in Spanish, in 2014 because I saw an unmet need for compassionate and culturally adept care for the Hispanic population in the United States. Today, almost five years later, I see an unmet need for compassionate care for everybody, no matter their culture, language, or where they live. Our mission is built on the belief that technology can increase compassionate care in healthcare.

ConsejoSano works with healthcare providers, employers, and other partners to implement linguistically and culturally tailored care. We utilize community detailing to understand the lives patients are living and the unique challenges they face so we can provide culturally, environmentally, and economically relevant outreach. For example, suggesting that a patient on Medicaid buy an air purifier to help manage asthma sounds like a great idea, until you price them and they’re over $200, which is quite possibly the amount they need to pay rent for the month. The same way it’s less environmentally relevant to talk about fresh fruits and veggies to a low-income diabetic who doesn’t live within 10 miles of a grocery store. Or translating a message about getting a Hepatitis C test into Hmong without taking into consideration Hmong religious beliefs regarding the consequences of removing anything from the body.

Technology has the dynamic power to reach patients where they are, acknowledge who they are, and engage them in better ways so that they can become active drivers of their own health. The patient’s role in their own healthcare is critical. It has enormous impact on health outcomes. At the same time, technology can help doctors better care for underserved and at-risk patients because it can enable a deeper understanding of who their patients are at their core—their culture, their family, their environment.

All of these factors have a big effect on patient health, but today most healthcare providers struggle to talk about them, let alone incorporate them into the way they deliver healthcare. In fact a recent study found that 47 percent of patients and 42 percent of doctors surveyed believed that health care did not generally provide compassionate care.

So what does technology-supported compassionate care look like and how does it work? Here’s a look:

  • It utilizes technology to connect people where they are. It helps to build trusted relationships and helps people get the care they need, where and when they need it.

  • It helps elevate the idea that people should not have to fundamentally change who they are in order to access healthcare or have to settle for poor quality healthcare services due to socioeconomic status.

  • It furthers the idea that every person deserves to talk to a doctor who can understand them. Acknowledging and respecting a patient’s culture goes beyond respecting the patient. Healthcare technology can be built to recognize and reach everyone, improving the health of our population.

  • It goes beyond translation to understanding. Healthcare is often designed for English speakers, then run through a translating service. Because it doesn’t start with culture, it loses its power to drive health outcomes and misses the mark with multicultural patients. Innovation must embrace diversity.

With technology, we can help doctors understand their patients on a whole new level. In this inclusive vision for healthcare, every patient receives high quality, compassionate, personalized care regardless of what they look like, talk like, or where they come from. This is the future of healthcare. It is the right thing to do and it doesn’t just benefit patients, but providers and health systems, too. We’re increasingly starting to see more studies and data to support this.

In this inclusive vision for healthcare, every patient receives high quality, compassionate, personalized care regardless of what they look like, talk like, or where they come from.

A review in 2016 of eight major scientific health databases (containing over 36,000 records) revealed only 44 articles about compassionate care, or one tenth of one percent. More surprisingly, less than one third of those studies involved patients. However, in those studies, there are some really astounding findings. In one example, researchers found that patients who were treated by empathetic clinician-patient communication trained clinicians had a 62 percent increase in treatment adherence over patients who were treated by doctors with no empathy training. Another study found that total costs of healthcare in the whole system are 30 percent lower when the primary care doctor provides “above median” patient-centered care. Compassionate care reduces costs and improves outcomes.

Most are unaware of how disconnected our healthcare system is for much of the population. America has changed, but our healthcare system has not. The large and growing disparities of culture and language are just one part. Race, ethnicity, socioeconomic factors and more have significant consequence to patient care. This will only increase in frequency and urgency in the future.

The U.S. Census estimates that by 2050, America will be a majority minority country. This means it’s likely that by 2050, the majority of American patients will not list English as their preferred language and won’t hold the cultural norms that doctors today are used to. If the industry doesn’t start making meaningful change to the way healthcare is delivered, it is creating a disaster for patients, healthcare, our economy and our ability to compete globally. Technology-enabled compassionate care can help our healthcare system evolve as America does, keep our population healthy, and reduce healthcare spending. But this evolution can’t stop at elite consumers. All people, including Medicaid/Medicare patients, must be included.

There is more to be said, but this is what we should ask ourselves today: If technology-enabled compassionate care can empower healthcare providers to better treat patients, improve patient engagement and reduce costs for all of our population, why wouldn’t we take advantage of it?

Abner Mason

Founder and CEO of ConsejoSano

Abner Mason is the founder and CEO of ConsejoSano, a patient engagement and care navigation system designed for Medicaid/Medicare, underserved and multilingual populations to better engage with the healthcare system.