By: Katie Owens, Vice President, HealthStream Engagement Institute
Taking on the role of a patient is one commonality we all share. Whether we have been one at an urgent care, to have a child, to fix a broken bone, seek treatment for a chronic condition we are all a part of the healthcare ecosystem. I have the privilege to work with thousands of healthcare leaders, staff, and providers each year – it is one that I do not take lightly. I work hard to stay on top of industry trends and remain connected to the daily demands of patient care across the continuum. It is fair to say that Healthcare takes up the majority of my daylight hours (sound familiar?). And I feel compelled to play a positive role in making healthcare better because every patient is a person who wants the very best care possible. The human experience matters.
The reality is that we spend more time at work and with our co-workers, patients, and visitors than our own families and loved ones. We are people taking care of other people – in their greatest time of need, where uncertainty and the need for reassurance peaks.
So many times, leaders ask me, “What matters most to drive outcomes; focusing on engaging your employees or patients?” I have given this question tremendous reflection over many site visits with hospitals and health systems, as well as my families own personal healthcare journeys over the years. I have come to the conclusion that as healthcare leaders, employees, and providers, we need to unapologetically establish and promote cultures of person-centered excellence. Cultures where each person is treated with respect, dignity, and accountability. At the heart of person-centered excellence is actively displaying compassion and empathy for each individual.
In thinking about times when I have personally been a patient (and researched my own symptoms online – to which I am not alone. It is estimated that over two-thirds percent of patients Google their symptoms prior to an office visit), every team member has made me feel that I am in good hands by demonstrating compassion (or made me feel uneasy by failing to demonstrate compassion).
Every interaction that you have is an opportunity to demonstrate person-centered excellence in action by displaying empathy and compassion or denigrate it. Your presence with your employees, providers, patients, visitors and community matters.
Honestly, nearly all of us strive to be empathetic and compassionate (granted there are some CAVE People – Citizens Against Virtually Everything), yet too often I see a disconnect between an individual’s intent and the perceptions of the recipient. There are three likely scenarios where we can close gaps (and the good news is that none of these require additional budgetary dollars).
Among leaders and employees – As a leader, do not assume your team knows all of the tremendous work you do behind the scenes. Communicate often and genuinely. Be visible, always make eye contact and engage your employees. If your team members do not feel and experience compassion from you, how can you expect them to give it to your patients?
With patients and their loved ones – As caregivers, we must recognize that every patient and loved one that comes through our doors (regardless of where – the Lab, Emergency Department, Imaging, Inpatient, Medical Office) sees themselves as the most important person. Healthcare is unfamiliar to them, they likely have fears/anxieties and want to be reassured they are going to receive quality, compassionate care. We need to set expectations early and often, display empathetic and compassionate behaviors and never assume patients understand what we are doing and why.
Among peers – Since we spend more time with our peers than our loved ones, we need to explore ways to empathize with one another. Sometimes this takes a degree of courage to confront matters of safety, avoid errors or hold people accountable. I was recently shadowing bedside shift reporting with an organization and noticed a pair of nurses doing their end of shift report outside of the room. The retiring nurse later shared with me that she “knows” they are supposed to do their shift report in the room with the patient but does not feel confident in speaking up with those who are not onboard with the initiative. Everyone loses when we miss opportunities to cultivate peer-to-peer empathy and compassion.
Let’s get excited to seek out opportunities to Cultivate Person-Centered Excellence by establishing essential appreciation of the human experience in key roles to walk in patient’s crutches or slippers, wear the employee badge or the leadership hat. I can promise you, it will be a more rewarding voyage than focusing on what is not working in healthcare today.