The Power of Low-Tech in Healthcare

Every year, I take time to make some Valentine’s Day cards for kids.  The local radio station gathers cards from the community to take to children who have to be in the hospital on Valentine’s Day.  These kids will miss out on the class parties and the fun of exchanging cards, they need to be reminded they are loved and remembered.

I ask friends not to send me cards, but to send me blank cards so I can send them to the kids.  My grandma used to send me a whole pack of blank cards for the kids.  I take such pleasure in this small gesture.  And every year it reminds me the power of such small acts.  While healthcare is focused right now on high-tech, I maintain that we must not forget the impact of the low-tech.

We know that “laughter is the best medicine.” And a simple smile can meant the world to someone who is sick. In everyday life, a simple smile can reduce our stress and anxiety.  So how can we put into practice the low-tech solutions that could transform healthcare? Here are some examples I’ve experienced:

In September 2012, I had the greatest opportunity to attend Partnerships WITH Patients, organized by Regina Holliday.  As part of the conference, a small group talked with Eli Lilly’s COI group about reinventing the research process to be more patient centered.  We talked about ideas of transforming a sterile room to accommodate an autistic child participating in a study.  We talked about patients having access to their data. In my mind, the greatest thing that I felt drug companies could do – thank participants.  Of all the studies I’ve taken part in, I’ve never been thanked. Not once. Perhaps they couldn’t send me an individual thank you card – though maybe they could.  But what if they put on their website: “Thank you to all the research participants who made our innovations possible.”?

Then a week later, at Stanford’s MedicineX the conference organizers gave me a flower.  I took that flower from California to Texas and kept it for days, reminded how that single gift had an everlasting effect.  The sweet bloom more meaningful than the t-shirt we picked up at registration.

At that conference, I took part in a day of designing at IDEO where we talked about solutions to patients’ healthcare needs.  While many ideas were high tech apps and EHRs, mine was focused on efforts that took no smart phone or computer, big data or venture capital.  My solution was about the connection between physicians and patients – the need to be heard.  The mere act of talking to someone, bonding over stories that may have nothing to do with disease has helped my doctors “get it” or in other words understand me.  And in understanding me, they can perhaps learn how best to treat me.

Doctors too deserve an act of kindness.  A thank you in the least to let them know they “got it” that their care transformed the lives of their patients.  A lovely post on “When patients write to doctors, and what it means” reminds us of the power of the patients words.  I sent this post to a doctor I know and he told me:

I too have kept files of notes.  Recently I received a phone call from a patient, age 82, to thank me on the 20th anniversary of his heart transplant. How Awesome!

These words so important in a system where doctors often feel burdened with new technologies and ever increasing demands, often resulting in burnout which compromises care.  When we send a message of kindness forth, we provide encouragement to our caregivers to continue their great work.

In this age of high-tech healthcare we must remember that our impact cannot be completely measured in the number of users we get or clicks on our webpages.  Rather we must also consider our impact on health in the low-tech ways with which we make others feel heard, loved, remembered, cared for.



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