Getting people to do things—like take their medicine—is a personal thing. Mechanical interactions—like beeps, buzzers and flashing lights—can only go so far in reminding people to use their medicine. There is growing realization that caring human-to-human interactions, or at least the perception of them, have a more powerful influence on people’s perceptions and actions.

Checking into a luxury hotel for a work trip illustrates how corporations have begun to take this to heart. Arriving at the registration desk, the clerk took the usual information and checked me in to a room. She prepared the room key cards in the usual way. After everything was all set, she stepped out from behind the registration desk to hand me the room key cards personally, welcoming me to their hotel.

The clerk could easily have just handed me the key card across the counter, just like a thousand clerks have done every other time I’ve checked into a hotel. Instead, this hotel changed the protocol to make the check-in experience one in which there was a more personal human-to-human interaction. Undoubtedly, they realize that this interpersonal interaction changes perceptions, will make me think that this hotel cares about me and will cause me to be more likely to return for a future stay.

A few days later, back home, shopping for groceries, I was standing in front of the meat counter, mulling over how the hotel clerk didn’t just hand the card across the counter but made the welcoming experience more personal. Suddenly, I noticed the butcher taking my order had disappeared. Annoyed, I craned my neck to see where he might have gone, when he popped up behind me with the package of meat I had ordered. I asked him about this, and he told me it is now company policy that he not hand the meat across the counter, but instead come out from behind the meat counter (a considerable distance) to hand people their meat personally.

Healthcare is undergoing a digital revolution, trying to become more efficient while reducing costs—and these trends tend to reduce the personal nature of healthcare. The more visit times are shortened, the more that care is given by the provider du jour instead of the life-long family doctor, the less personal healthcare becomes. As the healthcare experience becomes less personal, there is greater risk that patients will not adhere to the recommended treatment. For those of us who care about getting patients to take their medication and care that they get well, we have to make sure we are giving patients the perception that we do care for them.

  • Steven Feldman, M.D.

    Dr. Steven Feldman is Professor of Dermatology and Public Health Sciences at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Steve studies patient adherence at North Carolina’s Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. He is also Chief Science Officer of Causa Reseach, an adherence solutions company (www.causaresearch.com), founder of www.DrScore.com, and author of “Compartments” and “An Illustrated Dictionary of Behavioral Economics for Healthcare Professionals.”

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