Chief nursing officer's tale highlights need for empathy in healthcare

Guest post by Thomas Dahlborg, chief financial officer and vice president of strategy for NICHQ (National Institute for Children's Health Quality), where he focuses on improving child health and well-being

I recently had the opportunity to visit a number of well-respected healthcare organizations and meet with amazing servant leaders who are all striving to bring healthCARING back into the healthcare system.

Today I would like to share one of those experiences and what I learned.

At a critical access hospital in the Midwest, I met a chief nursing officer (CNO) who has worked throughout the country to implement systems to better position nurses to be successful and again find joy in their work, and improve the care of patients and their families. We had the opportunity to share stories, best practices and barriers to optimal care provision. And during this time I shared the story that I have shared on many occasions in many forums of the impact of childhood abuse on the health of adult patients.

I explained how I've witnessed firsthand far too many patients being declared "non-compliant" because they did not adhere to treatment protocols when in fact we healthcare leaders have not created care models that allow for time, relationship, trust and for the patient's whole story to be told and heard. These patients were not positioned to share their whole story, and clinicians were not positioned to hear their whole story, e.g., how sexual abuse in patients' past had led them to form an unhealthy relationship to food or how abuse from a coach during their childhood has led to an aversion to exercise. And thus we healthcare leaders have not created systems that allow both patient and clinician to identify and address the root cause of "non-compliance" but rather, we have given up on patients who truly needed us.