Advancing Digital Health Industry Should Leave Room for Emotional Intelligence

Arden University Healthcare Management student, Elsa Denise Perestrelo, explores the impact our increasingly digital world is having on the healthcare industry.

Smartphone and stethoscope

There is no doubt that digital health is fundamentally transforming global healthcare; in a world where you can now receive a doctor’s consultation through your phone or track your cardiac function with a smart watch, technology is making life easier for both the people receiving and giving medical services. It begs the question, what happened to the part about ‘treating the patient, and not just the disease’? 

Digital Health

It is expected that by 2023 the global digital health market will be worth an estimated 234 5 billion. The increasing interest in the market has led to ground breaking advancements, which is why it comes as no surprise that the ‘Big 4’ and other tech companies are becoming leaders in healthcare innovation and artificial intelligence.

Apple’s iPhone can compute health data by monitoring a user’s blood pressure and with the Apple Watch (Series 4 or later), you can get an electrocardiogram (ECG) in the comfort of your home, while Amazon’s Alexa now has a set of new ‘healthcare skills’ in partnership with other companies. They range from helping patients track their prescription delivery with Express Scripts, to offering members the chance to enquire about their last blood sugar level readings and receive advice based on their personal data with Livongo Health.

With the rise of collaboration between these huge tech companies and healthcare providers, it is easy to wonder if one day there might just actually be ‘an app for everything’. Even though at times they are more convenient than traditional methods, most of these apps do not provide the users with an experience that includes engaging with someone who will try to understand your emotions and relate to you as an individual.

According to Freshman and Rubino (2002), this ability to recognise human issues and respond to them appropriately is significant in healthcare, an environment with numerous concerns such as patient protection to consider.

Remember when people would actually have to go to a hospital to get a skin cancer test? Well, now you can do it through SkinVision on your smartphone. Many of the major improvements in health service delivery can be attributed to the advancement of medical artificial intelligence (AI). So, if artificial intelligence is improving our lives, why do a number of people still prefer to go to physical health centres to be treated by real-life health practitioners? What can a nurse offer that an app cannot? Emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence vs Artificial Intelligence

As simply put by Goleman (2010), emotional intelligence (EI) is ‘the capacity to recognise our own feelings and those of others, to manage our emotions and to interact effectively with others’. According to the well-known psychologist’s book, Working With Emotional Intelligence, EI has five attributes:

  1. Self-awareness (recognising and understanding your own emotions)
  2. Self-regulation (managing your emotions and expressing yourself appropriately)
  3. Social skills (interacting well with others)
  4. Empathy (understanding and relating to how others are feeling)
  5. Motivation (having an interest in improving yourself)

The attributes can be divided into two categories: ‘personal’ (self-awareness, self-management and motivation) and ‘social’ (social skills and empathy). These categories go hand in hand with each other; since one could say understanding yourself is a key to understanding others, both necessary traits in a field where artificial intelligence is beginning to overshadow the need for human connection.

Health technology is moving towards faster and standardised medical service delivery, subsequently requiring less human interaction between patients and practitioners. However, in some cases, patients would prefer a health practitioner who is both educated and emotionally intelligent over a more accurate computer-based programme.

In a recent article from the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers explored why patients were resistant to the use of medical artificial intelligence, regardless of the evidence proving AI to be more effective and accurate than human healthcare providers. Through a series of experiments, they found the reason to be that patients viewed themselves as unique and they felt that computers were incapable of detecting their uniqueness.

It is interesting to observe how even with the availability of ‘better options’, the patients were still willing to risk the chance of receiving a less accurate diagnosis, for the sake of being diagnosed by someone who could factor in their individuality.

Social skills and empathy - two of the EI attributes - are important keys in identifying people’s individuality or uniqueness in patient-centred care.

The ability to understand the emotions a person, or in this case, a patient is experiencing improves their openness to treatment in a healthcare environment. How health service providers can use that understanding and the patients’ past and present circumstances to relate it to their specific treatment is essentially the use emotional intelligence. In fact, the concept of patient care involves supporting patients to understand and learn about health, and the utilisation of that information to treat a patient the best way suitable for them.

Looking Forward

Despite the progression in technology today, there is clearly still a need for human contact. A research letter published in JAMA Oncology showed that patients preferred doctors who engaged in face-to-face consultations, in comparison to those who used computers to communicate with them; they viewed the doctors they saw in person to be more compassionate and felt they had better communication skills.

This need should not be ignored but should rather be at the centre of all conversations surrounding medical artificial intelligence. Digital health is changing lives by introducing more cost-effective and time-saving medical service delivery for patients but how does it make them feel?

This article was taken from the Arden Business Newsletter. If you’re an Arden student or member of staff, and would be interested in writing a topical piece for the newsletter, please contact the editorial team on

For a full list of references relating to this article, please contact: