Recently when my 10-year-old got sick I took him to the nearby Apollo clinic. While I was waiting for the physician, I noticed a sign on the wall that says “we will aim to establish an emotional connect and bond with the families and not just treat them as patients in a hospital.”  As someone working in the field of data, it made me think about quantifying and measuring emotional connections and what data is missing in this area of healthcare. As data experts, we know we can connect our interactions in Big Data. However, not all patient data is documented, whether it paper-based or Electronic Health Records (EHR). Healthcare data does not capture the “emotional connect” between patient and physician. Patients do not always understand words like data, measures, ratings, risk score, and everything in their EHR until the physician takes ownership and explains the data. The emotional connect has a potential to establish a stronger relationship and link the patient’s condition to their demographics and health behaviors. To establish this emotional connect the physician may play the role of a journalist by understanding the history/past and then tell a story. Human beings have a tendency to connect emotionally with personalized stories and story-tellers, which helps us understand and emotionally response to the facts. Stories are connected to brain forming a core memory and these core memories are essential for understanding human behavior. When a provider interacts with the patients, talking about the scientific names of the disease or the medicines may not create an open dialogue between patient and provider. However, if the healthcare provider can be a storyteller and narrate a story around the health condition of the patient it can potentially lead to behavior change. Furthermore, this storytelling has potential to gives us additional data for further/ advanced studies.

In information technology, most of our focus is on the different tools that process data. We use different techniques to collect data, ingest data, analyze and at the end decorate it using different data visualizing tools, but we do not always narrate a story about the problem/questions to our audience. Data visualization tools are capable of processing large and different data sets, which give us the opportunity to explore data and make informed decisions. These tools have the potential to tell data stories in different formats, enable better decision-making, and stimulate imagination when it comes to asking questions that have not been considered before. Technology has the ability to process and analyze data, but it is the data professionals who have to develop the story based on the data and connects with the audience.

Healthcare data provides us insights into cost-effective care at different levels of patient care, including population-based quality of care. Telling a compelling and comprehensive story of a single patient or a set of population would require emotional data along with clinical data, which makes a data professional like me ask questions such as what are the socio-economic factors that brought him/her to the doctor’s office? What are the health behaviors of the patient and how do they impact the way s/he presents with their symptoms? Considering the current economic condition, will the next generation be in the readmission bucket as well? Is it due to poor or lack of education that people are not aware of certain causes for the diseases?  The answers to these question can be achieved when a provider can break his 5-7 minute talk and emotionally connect to the patient by telling him the story of his current condition. Access to EHR data has improved significantly over the past decade – it can now be accessible across different locations and available 24/7 – all within HIPAA and confidentiality parameters. While analytical tools can help physicians analyze the patient’s condition and treatment, it is the emotional connect that will potentially help the patient understand their condition with relative ease and improve treatment compliance. This level of emotional connect and storytelling can help translate health indicators like maternal mortality rates, infant mortality, and childhood obesity into customer-friendly results, thereby strengthening the provider-patient relationship and compliance. In addition, a comprehensive story has the potential to help technology firms, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and even the government to help provide right interventions at the right place and at the right time.

While the idea of emotional connects and storytelling is not new, we have not made as much progress as in the other fields of data collection. As a data professional, I would like to collect and analyze the 360-degree view of a patient with respective to clinical and emotional connection data. Considering the progress we have made in other areas, I remain optimistic that we will soon be able to collect robust data on emotional connect and use it for creating a comprehensive story of a provider-patient relationship.

I would like to end this post on a lighter note with my own adoption of the “Mirror Mirror on the Wall” rhyme:

Data Data on the Store
We have been together from the core
I know that we can turn to you
And you will always tell us more
We know you are mightier than what we see
But what happens when we cannot use you furthermore?