Keeping it human: Can AI help you understand the patient experience?

In the ever-evolving landscape of the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare, breakthrough innovations have already emerged with the assistance of AI. With the unlimited opportunities from these breakthroughs to help increase efficiencies and advance industry developments, can the same be true for trying to understand the complexities of the patient experience? Our Head of Marketing Alex Cull discusses her thoughts on one key element of the patient experience that still needs a human touch…

Roleplay and empathy – bridging the gap to patient understanding

Having recently joined the A Life in a Day team, I felt well versed in our mission to improve understanding through a lived experience of a patient which builds empathy, due to the extensive research I embarked upon during the interview process. I had read about the three key components that are included in every immersive patient experience – a sealed kit of items, an interactive app and roleplay calls. I understood exactly what happens when participants go through living like a patient for 24 hours; or so I thought… 

Have you ever had your boss phone you to discuss how you’re not performing well due to circumstances out of your control? Or worse yet, had a doctor phone with awful news to break to you? I hope you never have to experience these scenarios, because even in a completely simulated setting, these situations are absolutely gut-wrenching. Even though I know the person on the other side of the phone is an actor (and a very good one at that), it doesn’t stop your stomach lurching at hearing that diagnosis, or make you break into a sweat when you’re being asked questions about your support network for your uncertain future. 

Woman on phone by her window

Out of all the elements included in the A Life in a Day experiences, the roleplay calls were the element that really caught me off guard by how effective they really were. My cynical tendency convinced myself that having a stranger phone pretending to be someone significant in my life would have no effect on me, and yet it’s the part of the experience that I find myself retelling to others when describing my 24-hour patient experience. 

So why are the roleplays so effective? Are they really needed to help tell a patient perspective? With the emergence of AI and other technologies, the buzz is that AI is looking to replace most human-based tasks anyway. 

I can emphatically vouch for the impact and need for human-led roleplays when it comes to the A Life in a Day experience, and more importantly the role they play in developing a participant’s empathy and understanding. Having a human who can ad-lib through a conversation in such a fluid way (there is no right or wrong approach to these calls) makes you connect to this experience in such an emotive way, leading to a much deeper personal connection than you would get by simply reading a patient story. 

Having this human element in our experiences helps deliver a deep and emotive learning. It increases participant’s attention and engagement which leads to an incredibly memorable journey that participants will draw on for years to come. The personal relevance captures your attention in a way I have NEVER experienced before and provides a learning way beyond the 24 hours I experienced living like a person with a condition. 

Even though I know the person on the other side of the phone is an actor (and a very good one at that), it doesn’t stop your stomach lurching at hearing that diagnosis…"

I’ve just recently gone through our latest Multiple Sclerosis (MS) experience where one of the roleplays legitimately had me breaking into a cold sweat. It’s having these emotional responses that helps any participant remember that what we feel and go through is merely a fraction of what patients do daily in real life. And by embracing empathy in this way, roleplay isn’t just a simulation—it’s a catalyst for empathy, transforming experiences from mere observation to visceral understanding. 

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