How healthcare leaders can use data and drive lasting change by delivering person-centered care
Healthcare has reached a tipping point. Faced with financial pressures, a changing competitive environment and talent shortages, the industry was pushed to its limits. Clinicians struggle to rationalize the dissonance between the treatment they seek to provide and overcoming everyday barriers. The resulting moral distress makes it difficult for them to continue to be their best selves—to their colleagues and to their patients. The industry needs to take action, and it all starts with one word: empathy.
The Neverending Debate: Who’s First?
At its core, empathy is the ability to “feel” and understand another’s emotional experience—while standing in your own shoes—and then act on that understanding. Without a doubt, clinicians want to provide the best care to the patient in front of them. So the question is, “What’s getting in the way?”—not, “What’s wrong with them?” The first opportunity is to openly encourage health workers to have self-compassion. If the team is understaffed for the third week or third month and you’re picking up the pieces, being aware of the spaces you can create that allow you to continue is critical. Only the health worker knows what they are – food, water, laughter, family, fresh air, etc. – and which is available when. Being aware of how a person is feeling, articulating it, and practicing asking for help or doing what needs to be done matters when we think about self-compassion.
Organizations can also help. Tail operationalizing empathy, the concept of embedding empathy into organizational work processes and practices.
Over the past decade, data has shown that patients experience a fragmented health care system that makes them feel invisible and unfamiliar and heightens anxiety about broken processes. The saving grace? The bond that patients often have with the team that cares for them—a bond that allows them to tolerate—and forgive—everything else. However, they shouldn’t. The irony is that clinicians are also frustrated by brokenness and yet press forward in service to their patients and colleagues. At this point, a catalyst for change is taking shape in the convergence of patient consumerism and digital transformation. Not just as buzzwords, but as new models of care delivery and a rebellion against what was. We must all rise to the call to provide a more empathetic and emotionally connected healthcare experience for all people, for the benefit of patients, families, providers and staff.
The answer to the endless debate: There is no us against them. People come first.
Understanding emotion as a catalyst for change
Taking a holistic view of empathy as a concept involves the hard work of listening, understanding, and active. This is hardest when you don’t resonate with the person in front of you. Empathy is also not limited to interactions between two people—it can—and does—involve teams, processes, and organizations as a whole.
In healthcare, we have long focused on quality and safety. Hospitals maintain myriad processes to ensure it and adopt high-reliability frameworks and simply cultures to enable it. Without a doubt, safety is at the heart of the healthcare experience. Yet patients now expect to be safe when they come to a hospital. Not causing a major medical error is table stakes and won’t be the story patients tell when they leave. Instead, they will tell stories about how the hospital staff made them feel. Think about the last health story you told or heard, it was probably driven by emotion. So if organizations want to differentiate their services and grow in the market, emotions matter.
It is imperative that healthcare providers, teams and the whole entity understand the emotions of their patients; their goals, preferences and how they experience their care. Not as a nice-to-have, but as an essential component of person-centered care that cares for the whole person. By leveraging technology and analyzing data, healthcare organizations can learn about their patients from the very beginning of their healthcare journey. If done effectively and thoughtfully, this application can also free up staff to perform the most intimate care. In addition, the data can inform more personalized care for the patient, caregivers, and family—whether the patient prefers to communicate with them, support programs, or access channels.
We are fundamentally emotional beings who judge our experiences based on how they make us feel. Our emotions drive decision-making, perceptions and behavior in all aspects of life, and healthcare is no exception. In fact, 80% of prospective patients use online reviews and look to the opinions and feelings of others when choosing a new healthcare provider. Recognizing emotion is vital to providing human-centered healthcare experiences. Therefore, it is necessary to develop empathy and listen in a way that supports the healing efforts of both those being cared for and those providing care.
The ROI of Empathy – Starting with Retention
The impact of using data to improve patient care has lasting implications for both providers and patients. When patients feel valued, heard, and treated with empathy, they are more likely to stay with a provider, recommend that provider, and engage in healthy behaviors. In fact, one third of patients will miss or avoid care based on how they were treated by their healthcare provider or staff, which is problematic as avoiding healthcare worsens the health condition. Leading with empathy and curiosity about people with condition XYZ is the right thing to do and creates value for all parties.
Furthermore, patients are not the only ones who benefit when emotions are heard. Health workers are healers and started their profession to make a difference. with 75% of healthcare workers expected to leave the profession by 2025, it is imperative that we connect emotionally with our own people, fostering their connections with each other, the organization and their patients. Too often we ask for their opinion in annual surveys and change does not follow. This undermines trust in organizations and people. Research shows that people are less likely to leave organizations when they feel strategically oriented and have opportunities for growth and development. Understanding what this means tactically across different populations and then co-engineering solutions is key to long-term engagement.
Commit to listening to emotions and values today for a better tomorrow
There has never been a time in healthcare when listening and understanding have been more critical. Today’s issues are divisive, complex and multi-layered, with no easy solutions. We cannot begin to correct without slowing down to listen through every available channel. It is about listening more meaningfully to the emotions and values at stake. Only when we understand them can we apply empathy and act in ways that make people feel seen, valued and heard.