The Importance of Empathy in Healthcare

January 19, 2017 Jenn Lau

Spend some time with any modern healthcare organization, and you're bound to come across the term 'patient-centric'. The shift from disease-centered care to patient-centered care has a similar ring to the heavy emphasis on customer experience that has emerged from the age of e-commerce and online reviews.

You waited thirty minutes for your order to be taken at a restaurant, only to be told that they're out of the daily special? Yelp it.

Just got off the phone with an impolite customer service representative after being overcharged on your cell phone bill? Tweet it.

The ability for us unabashedly go online and publicly express our distaste or gratitude welcomes opportunity for improvement in products and services. Companies get the chance to make right by their customers, showcase their devotion to customer satisfaction, and take note for future interactions. It’s the epitome of making the most out of a bad situation.

It’s a bit more complex in healthcare.

Collecting and responding to patient feedback is a vital part of improving patient satisfaction. But what determines whether you hear that feedback in the first place? The general patient demographic is incredibly heterogeneous – we are human, after all. On one end of the spectrum, there are the chronic complainers that are impossible to please. On the other end are the pleasant patients that go out of their way to express their appreciation for your care. Then there are the patients that are quietly apathetic. Maybe they hesitate to voice their concerns because they worry about there will be repercussions. Or maybe they think their opinion won’t make a difference. You might hear about it after the post-discharge survey, but by then it will be too late.

Regardless of the host of factors that determine patient attitudes, in the setting of a hospital, patients are brought together by one thing: illness. Patient-centered culture begins with the individual provider. Each patient-facing employee can demonstrate their care and concern, removing barriers to communication with the patient. Make it known that while you understand they are in pain, they are in a safe environment for sharing their thoughts.

Kevin Smart, Program Manager for Corporate Insurance and Risk at McLaren Health Care, said it best, “some complaints might not be justified, but they just want to be heard. It begins with building a relationship from the get-go, from the initial reaction at the emergency room with the triage nurse, to having an air of compassion and being open to assisting the patient anyway that they can.”

At RL Solutions, we’re lucky to be surrounded by a great group of clients and to us, it seems that their empathy comes directly from an emotional investment in their work and the people they provide selflessly for.

We know that it's impossible to make everyone happy. So, here are: Three Steps to Prepare your Staff for Angry Patients.

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