Where else but at a medical conference in Silicon Valley would you hear the term “empathy hack”? The concept of the empathy hack unites the acknowledged need for education geared toward fostering empathy in health-care providers with the innovative, disruptive mentality of the valley. The result is “One Day,” a pilot project led by Rice University’s Kristen Ostherr, PhD, and Roni Zeiger, MD and CEO of Smartpatients.com, who shared their hacking concept with attendees at a Stanford Medicine X | ED workshop yesterday.
The concept behind “One Day” is to pair a patient and a learner (a medical student, doctor, researcher, hospital administrator, or educator) and have the learner experience a day in the life of that patient, with everything that entails, including self-treatments and physical challenges caused by the patient’s illness.
The learner receives a “kit” containing materials that simulate the condition of the patient for the learner, i.e. a thin straw and air pack to simulate a nebulizer used by patients with cystic fibrosis, or leg weights to be worn to simulate the drag caused on limbs by Parkinson’s disease.
Once patient and learner are matched, they agree on a form of communication for the day, with modalities including SMS Text, Facebook chat or texting with video, audio and photographs. The learner then follows the actions of the patients during the day, whether administrating nebulizer treatments or trying to negotiate crossing a street quickly with limbs that are weighed down.
After describing the project, Ostherr and Zieger asked attendees to brainstorm ideas for expanding this model to be used for other patient illnesses and experiences. Participants in the outdoor workshop were doctors, patients and medical educators, and their responses included chronic pain, diabetes, homelessness patients, and palliative care and end of life treatment. Caroline Okorie, MD, a Stanford pediatric pulmonologist, said she would like to see an exercise like this for teenagers dealing with CF: “They really have a unique issues, even in comparison to adults.”
A patient who has been dealing with chronic pain for years suggested that learners should deal with multiple challenges, as many patients do. “It may not just be that the pain is your back, that can lead to shoulder pain, or headaches, and all this happens at once.”
Zieger and Ostherr, who hope to bring the project to medical schools, emphasized the simplicity of the model: The kits cost approximately $30, and HIPPA concerns are handled by informed consent filled out by the patient participants. It’s small investment for the potentially-eye opening and revelatory experience of health-care providers walking in the shoes of a patient, even just for a day.
Jacqueline Genovese is assistant director of the Arts, Humanities and Medicine Program within the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics.
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Photo of Kristen Ostherr and Roni Zeiger (both standing) courtesy of Stanford Medicine X