Empathy plays a greater role in healthcare

With the Affordable Care Act tying patient satisfaction to hospitals' incentive payments, patient experience efforts have been moving up the priority list.

But at the Cleveland Clinic, the impetus to make it a top priority goes back to 2004, when a Harvard Business School student questioned the hospital system's lack of empathy, Cleveland Clinic CEO Delos "Toby" Cosgrove wrote yesterday in a blog post.

"Dr. Cosgrove, do you teach empathy at Cleveland Clinic?" asked the student, whose father chose a more empathic hospital for surgery, despite the system's clinical reputation.

The question drove Cosgrove to restructure the doctor-centered organization into a patient-centered system by creating the Cleveland Clinic Office of Patient Experience, a "boot camp for empathy, engagement and service behaviors."

The Clinic is now finding itself among good company as more hospitals make empathy an important part of patient experience efforts and quality initiatives.

For example, Banner Health in Arizona conducts a "language of caring for physicians" program that helps strengthen the spoken and unspoken conversations among the physician, patient and family, Carla Rotering, a pulmonologist at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Phoenix, wrote in a Hospital Impact blog post last month.

"We also are recognizing that mindful empathic communication leads to a stronger connection with our patients, making our work as physicians more fulfilling and more aligned with our noble purpose," she said.

Empathy is one of four key ingredients to delivering exceptional patient experience, according to Doug Della Pietra, director of Customer Services and Volunteers and Patient Experience Team co-chair for Rochester (N.Y.) General Hospital.

He notes in a December Hospital Impact blog post that empathy is a teachable skill, pointing to Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General successfully training residents and staff to understand and respond to another person's feelings.

In fact, Massachusetts General's empathy training significantly improved physician's interactions with patients, which can lead to improved patient satisfaction and better health outcomes.

For more:
- read the Cleveland Clinic blog post
- here's Rotering's blog post
- read Della Pietra's blog post