As I Lay Dying…

Being knocked down with a nasty cold has me thinking, particularly as I consider a visit to the doctor today.  High touch care is becoming a centerpiece in the developing healthcare system.  While expectations are low for most people, they do see the trend shifting to a more engaged type of care and expect it become more the norm over time. Just as people have a wide array of choices when shopping retail setting, so to do they have a wide range of choices in healthcare providers and they are increasingly making choices based on the degree of involvement of a wider body of knowledge and people in the clinical setting.

Several factors are contributing to the desire for high touch care.  First, there is a purely psychological component that makes people see themselves as the center of the universe when ill.  Generally speaking, people either resign themselves to their condition and begin looking to take care of their loved ones (the paternal response) or they focus exclusively on their own condition, functioning as though the needs and conditions of others are secondary (childlike association).  In either case, there emerges a need to have a team working their behalf. This leads to both a sense of increased security and a sense that no matter what happens, they are not alone.  Remember, the response of many people when confronted with an illness is to run worst case scenarios through their minds.  Seeing a team of highly involved, smart, caring people helps detract from the worst case scenario thinking pattern. The result is that the patient feels more in control, positive and secure in the belief that he/she will come out of it well and healthy.

One the one hand there is a rational response that assumes the quality of care they are receiving is simply superior – the more people there are engaged, the more likely they are to solve the problem.  On the other hand, there is a deep emotional response.  Whether true or not, the high touch response has an emotional component wherein the patient comes to see the team of healthcare professionals, and even the institution, as caring and loving.  They impose strong emotional markers to the experience and come to view the system in a highly humanistic way.

It is also important to remember that at a fundamental level, human beings are social creatures.  The individual exists at the level of the organism, but that’s where it stops.  We carry our cultural baggage with us and have a deep need to be socially engaged.  Why does it matter?  First, the more people feel that they are part of a social system at the clinical level, the more likely they are to create positive memories about the experience.  In addition to turning the patient into a long-term devotee of the system, the patient typically becomes an advocate, telling other people about the nature of the care.  In other words, they become a representatives across a range of their social networks, meaning they essentially work as word of mouth advertising.

Second, when people enter into a clinical setting they are essentially foreigners entering another population’s culture.  There is a hospital culture made up of the people who are inside the system and there are patients.  This is decidedly nerve wracking.  The more the clinic takes on a high touch approach to care, the more likely the patient is to feel like they are part of the cultural system and the more likely they are to have a positive experience.  They are as invested as the medical personnel.

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