Connecting at a Distance: Fostering Empathy in Remote Healthcare Applications
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In recent years, remote healthcare has become more and more relevant. It provides unique advantages and can increase accessibility to healthcare for many. Although remote healthcare has unique advantages, it also has some unique drawbacks. One of these is the negative experiences of patients and health-care providers (HCP) using remote healthcare. A systematic literature review revealed that both patients and HCP dislike remote healthcare, and feel it is often ’cold’ or impersonal, but research that measures empathy between patients and HCP surprisingly does not find a significant difference between empathy in remote healthcare and face-to-face settings. In light of this, this research aims to answers the question: "How can technology foster the necessary degree of empathy between patients and healthcare providers, to improve the quality of telehealth applications?" To answer this question, semi-structured interviews were conducted with general practitioners (GPs) and their utterances were analysed using a design thinking approach, using customer journeys and bottom-up pattern analysis of their utterances. The goal was to output a set of design recommendations grounded in the literature, which have been validated through a qualitative approach. The interviews revealed that empathy was not actually lacking between patient and HCP. HCP did often have strong negative opinions of remote healthcare. It was hypothesized that these negative opinions led them to believe that the empathy they can convey using remote healthcare was lacking, even when in reality patients were satisfied. This would also explain the revelation from the literature review that indicated that there was no significant difference in empathy between face-to-face and remote settings. The created customer journeys, supported by the discovered patterns, revealed three types of opportunities for changing the negative opinions of GPs: Opportunities to persuade GPs to try more remote healthcare, opportunities for GPs to share knowledge about remote healthcare, and opportunities to reduce the stress GPs experience. Implementing the created design recommendations based on the discovered opportunities might change the negative opinions GPs have of remote healthcare. In turn, the empathy they experience and expect during their use of remote healthcare might improve.