Compassion in Digital Health – Innovation within Digital Health has the potential to heal or harm

Compassion in Digital Health – Innovation within Digital Health has the potential to heal or harm
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by Dr. Keith Thompson, OMD Physician Peer Leader

This column was originally posted on Dr. Thompson’s LinkedIn on July 10, 2022.

Compassion – HHR Staff- An Asset or an Expense?

This is the first in a series of Newsletters that I will explore the “heal vs harm” potential for all that is digital within our healthcare ecosystem. The focus however, is not solely patients, but also providers, allied health staff and front line workers that make up the essential ingredients of our healthcare system to keep it not only functional, but “Compassionate.”

This past week in an effort to decompress from the challenges of caring for my patients of over 30+ years, I was afforded the rare opportunity to “take a day away” and not feel guilty about my wonderings due to an unexplained national outage of our ICT provider-Rogers Telecommunications. Trying to suppress my shouts of joy that on Saturday morning after the outage, my EMR inbox had only 25 charts. Time left over to go for a drive!

Wandering the community of Erieau, my strolling brought me to the Pier where a gentleman and his wife were fishing. Applying my “holistic and artisan skills of interviewing,” it was not long before I ascertained the story of this gentleman and his occupation. He came to Canada from El Salvador almost 40yrs ago, and we chatted about the virtues of our country and all that it meant to him. He loved Canada!

He had worked in a poultry processing plant outside of London, Ontario and had recently retired. He mentioned at one point, struggling with back pain from prolonged standing on the processing line, and had difficulty continuing his work as prescribed. When mentioning this to his employer, the result was a lesson of value in treating employees as an “asset vs an expense.”

Rather than suggest a medical visit, WSIB forms and a “note from his doctor for restrictions”- his employer suggested an alternate location, and “take the breaks you need when you are feeling sore.” This man went on to describe how he felt validated and also felt compassion from this employer because they “cared about him.”

The challenge during Covid-19 and a HC system in collapse, has been how to keep the system running compassionately for both patients and providers. The challenges however precede the pandemic, as HC and its organizations had already a systemic blight of treating staff as a required part of the machinery, but more as an expense than an asset. Moving from nursing employer contracts to casual full time contracts, in an effort to reduce overhead of benefits, would be one example of putting cost before compassion.

There have been success stories however; UHN in Toronto approached vaccination of staff with compassion by creating their “Vaccine ambassador and Peer to Peer” program. Rather than the heavy handed “vaccinate or your out” approach- they encouraged discussion and answered questions by partnering people to have and to take time to review options and risk vs. benefits. A truly compassionate approach in time of crisis.

Building a culture of compassion and wellness within our healthcare system is not going to be easy. The first step however is to see our staff as “assets” vs “expenses.” We might start by promoting the same line of conversation we use with our patients when building a compassionate journey, and starting with 4 basic principles:

  1. Practice good manners in conversations with staff. Undivided attention and active listening
  2. Show personal interest without violating boundaries
  3. Take the time to think about their journey and how it might be expressing itself within their perception of interactions.
  4. Acknowledge their feelings- simply validate and summarize what you believe they are experiencing emotionally.

If you would like to learn more about building a culture of wellness with your employees there are some terrific reads and sky-view summaries out there. One of those can be found at the League home page under resources: https://league.com/ca/resources/employers/ League had no input or contribution to this newsletter and the above article is merely my own thoughts and opinions, but I could not help but mention their homepage as having really great “how do I” resources posted online.

In future articles I hope to explore the complex realm of digital health and the challenges to keep our healthcare system compassionate and holistic as it becomes more technologically centered. Happy providers and staff means happy patients and better healthcare journeys for us all.

Feel free to reach out to me with comments or put comments below, ideas or collaborations on future articles should you wish. I love to hear other people’s stories and we learn from each other.

Join me at OMD’s Digital Health and Virtual Care Conference (100% virtual conference) on Thursday, September 29, as part of the keynote panel where OMD’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Chandi Chandrasena and OMD Patient Leader, Sydney Graham will be discussing the art of medicine, how digital health has evolved the way physicians practice medicine, whether technology has gotten in the way, and how it impacts patient care. Clinicians can register for free here!

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