Melanie Medina

H Is for ‘Empathy’

June 17, 2022

I’m a sucker for cleverly titled educational sessions at conferences.  

When I ran across a session titled “Is H for Healthcare or Hospital?” at the HIMSS Texas Regional Conference in May 2022, I knew I had to attend. 

Plus, when I have an opportunity to hear from two women in tech-focused leadership roles — in this instance, Jennifer Greenman, CIO at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and Elizabeth Lindsay-Wood, VP & CIO of City of Hope — I don’t turn it down, even if the session title sounds a bit like a Sesame Street episode. 

What’s more, I’d crossed paths professionally with the moderator, Ed Marx, in a previous life when we both worked for the same healthcare system.  

Ed, who is now the CEO of Divurgent, teed up the question for the audience — “So what does ‘H’ stand for?” — and then asked the audience to offer up any “h” words that come to mind related to healthcare. 

When the audience offered suggestions, Jennifer and Elizabeth responded with their perspectives, covering topics like: 

Hectic. Healthcare, including health IT, moves at a hectic pace. 

Home.  How can we use technology to facilitate cancer care in the comfort of patients’ homes? 

Hands. We all have a hand to lend in easing clinician burnout and lifting morale. 

Hotel. Innovative cancer centers are beginning to offer hotel-like facilities near their treatment centers so that patients and their families have a comfortable place to stay near their care teams after treatments. 

Jennifer and Elizabeth spoke broadly about how health IT leaders should consider not only technology solutions, but also how good old-fashioned empathy for others can improve the experience for clinicians, patients, and their families.  

“We often jump to technical and forget the human aspect,” Ed said. 

About halfway through the session, I raised my hand and asked if they could talk about “interoperability.”  

It didn’t begin with the correct letter, but since it was alphabetically adjacent, I figured they’d cut me some slack. They did, and their responses hit a nerve.  

Elizabeth talked about how healthcare environments are expanding and connecting data from more sources is increasingly complex. “Care isn’t just local anymore. It’s national or international,” she said. For example, anyone involved in healthcare decision-making can access clinical trials all over the world in some instances.  

She also cited genomics data as an example. “We need this data to be precise about the kind of cancer our patients have as individually as possible. Getting that information from the patient is easier but getting it into your systems and using it appropriately in a large data set with similar diagnoses is hard,” Elizabeth explained. “We’re learning ways to do this through natural language processing, but it continues to be a struggle for everyone.” 

Jennifer said that the aspect of interoperability she finds most compelling dovetails with “hectic,” as it relates to clinicians caring for cancer patients.  

“Our clinicians receive these enormous outside records, sometimes several hundreds of pages of outside medical records. I feel such compassion for them,” Jennifer said. “It’s a massive cognitive burden. I would really like us as an industry to improve or reduce the cognitive burden to surface insights.”  

She asked the audience, most of whom represented healthcare IT vendors, to think about how we make these inputs more meaningful and tell a story in a more straightforward way for the doctors and nurses caring for the patient.  

Working for a company that creates interoperability solutions, I know that better experiences for clinicians and patients are an outcome of the work we do. 

But hearing two CIOs articulate this so clearly in the context of cancer care underscored for me that we truly have a moral calling to solve technical problems that have lasting impacts on doctors and patients. 

We still have work to do, and hearing these two Lyniate Corepoint customers explain the challenges on a human level inspires me to want to do better.  

Wherever we sit in the healthcare ecosystem, thinking about the problems we solve from the perspective of empathy for other people — patients, doctors — is a good starting point, no matter which letter of the alphabet we want to start with. 

From the HIMSS Texas Regional Conference in May 2022. Left photo: Elizabeth Lindsay-Wood VP & CIO at City of Hope; Melanie Medina, content director at Lyniate; and Jennifer Greenman. CIO at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Top right photo: Melanie and Ed Marx, CEO of Divurgent.

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