Why Words Matter: The Power of Nuance in Healthcare Technology

ECOSYSTEM Apr 19, 2021

By: Patrice Combatalade, UX Researcher at Commure

Home hospital is not the same as home care. There is a big difference between the two!”

I was being corrected over the phone by a clinician at a leading Harvard teaching hospital in Boston. I listened patiently, sitting in “the phone booth”—a glorified closet in our office, and the only quiet space where I could talk to our customers in peace. It was May 2017 and the doctor and I were discussing how we could help build out his innovative idea: an acute care hospital that treats patients in their own homes.

He was hammering home just how much the right words matter, and how much of a difference a small change can mean.

The distinction between home hospital and home care is profoundly important because the two carry completely different challenges, risks, and costs, while serving vastly different needs. Both services are governed by different rules, procedures, and agreements, but neither can be billed in the same way or to the same payors. It is akin to labeling a body of water a freshwater lake when one is really talking about a saltwater lagoon.

As a UX researcher at Commure, I partner with product and design each day to take complex problems and turn them into simple, actionable plans that our team can execute on.  At Commure, we partner with healthcare organizations to modernize care delivery, and it is conversations like this one that make it clear just how important it can be for us to understand the nuance of our words.

Small Changes Make Big Differences

"Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations. They have been out and about, on people's lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries. And that is one of the chief difficulties in writing them today – that they are stored with other meanings, with other memories, and they have contracted so many famous marriages in the past.” - Virginia Woolf

To many, the language used in healthcare ranges from nuanced to opaque. Every word carries linguistic baggage that impacts everyone from patients, to providers, to communities, and beyond. A single word can describe an inconvenience or it can carry life-changing significance.

Healthcare is an ecosystem, which has people in need at its very core. The “people natured” facet of healthcare can both foster new ideas and lock us into antiquated patterns of thought. It is only by having the right conversations, asking the right questions, and finding the right information that we enable this ecosystem to change and adapt. This work is very complex and requires a shared basis of understanding.

Small changes can make big differences. Healthcare leaders are often trying to improve care by testing changes similar to the home hospital program. Many of these changes are local or unknown before they become widely accepted and many already carry risks, costs and a lot of hard work. All of which can lead to nothing if they are roadblocked and killed by small errors in communication in the tools they utilize.

Only when we have a healthcare technology ecosystem which fosters communication around the responsible implementation of new ideas can we benefit from these small changes turning into big differences. This is the future we at Commure seek to create.

Enabling the Evolution of Care

The Harvard doctor’s insightful lecture taught me the importance of a shared vocabulary when working with healthcare and the impact that small changes can have. It is only through conversation and shared knowledge that we can bridge the gap between health and technology we see today. To finish this tale, my team and I were able to help the home hospital pilot using Listrunner, a Commure-developed care team coordination application. Enabling secure access to customized patient lists via smartphone and enhancing their care coordination allowed the group to focus on creating a possible evolution in care delivery.

At present, COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on the home hospital program. Throughout the pandemic, the team has been able to maintain their high caliber of care while actively ensuring that vulnerable people would not be put at risk with a hospital stay.

I’m proud that Commure fosters a culture of communication to minimize the struggles clinicians face when providing care. This was just one of many cases we face daily in our challenge of enabling care by minimizing the disruption of technology and maximizing the understanding behind its implementation. Home hospital and programs like it may one day help improve our approach to healthcare, but only if technology is able to pave the way, instead of block it.


If you’re passionate about enabling small changes that make big differences, join the Commure team to empower health institutions to create the future of physical and virtual care.

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