The starting point of every interaction, every decision, and every goal of healthcare, should be empathy. This is true for healthcare providers/staff, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, and medical supply vendors, etc. These days, healthcare is very complex and there are many metrics to meet. It is very easy for organizations to get caught in the weeds and forget their first priority is empathy.
A famous speech, given by George W. Merck in 1950, embodied empathy, “We try to remember that medicine is for the patient. We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been.”
Throughout most of my career, I have worked with healthcare providers and staff in hospitals and clinics. I have witnessed great displays of empathy, both professionally and personally. I have seen the worry, sadness, surprise, and happiness on their faces when they truly make an effort to understand how their patients feel and are able to communicate that in an authentic way.
On a personal note, I once spent an entire month in the hospital. From a patient’s perspective, it was evident to me that when I perceived the physicians or nurses interacting with me from a place of empathy, trust was quickly built. This was easily established when the provider/staff member practiced active listening; providing me with validation and respect. This kind of trust is rock solid and inspires patients to be compliant in their treatment recommendations, to share their stories of how well they were treated, and to return for care. This kind of trust builds your brand and patients will repay you with fierce loyalty.
The flip side of that, is that many providers, staff, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies, etc., don’t practice empathy. They listen with an agenda because they are allowing the metrics to drive their behavior and decisions. The result is that the person on the receiving end (patient or caregiver) does not feel respected or validated. This kind of “frayed trust” reminds me of an old suspension bridge with ropes that are worn and unraveling and has missing planks. This is not the kind of bridge you want to cross and this is not the type of trust that endears providers, hospitals, or pharmaceutical companies, etc., to their patients.
At one time, I worked for a medical device company. I believed in the product I sold and knew it had the potential to save lives. Even though, I operated from a place of empathy in all my patient/caregiver and provider interactions, the company itself was not an emotionally intelligent company and did not operate with empathy. As a part of the plan of care, I chose to spend a lot of time educating my patients and their caregivers on the device prior to their fitting. I spent a lot of time listening to my patients and their caregivers. I wanted to listen, validate, respect, and educate. My goal was not just to make the sale, but to make sure I built trust with the providers that had written the order for the device and the patients that were receiving it. Failure to listen and establish trust could easily result in the patient not wearing the device when they needed it the most and the consequence could be death. I was routinely rewarded by patients, caregivers, and providers thanking me for doing the right thing, which was treating their patients how I would want my family member treated if they were in the same situation. Sadly, even though I was working from a place of empathy, the company that I worked for routinely demonstrated a lack of empathy to patients, providers, and their employees, so I left. Unfortunately, this company continues to experience high turnover, because employees want to work for emotionally intelligent companies. Further, this company is not trusted by many providers. Although, since it enjoys a monopoly, providers begrudgingly continue to give them business. However, if competition ever enters the market, they will no doubt lose a lot of business because of their lack of emotionally intelligent business practices.
Everyday we encounter opportunities to practice our Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skills. Sometimes we are able to use mindfulness to practice skills and sometimes, we allow ourselves to become emotionally hijacked. We don’t always succeed in acting in an emotionally intelligent way, but with mindfulness and practice we can achieve significant growth and the rewards will follow. When your organization and employees construct a strong bridge of trust, built from empathy, your patients will be willing to travel across that bridge with you. The rewards on the other side of that bridge are: higher patient satisfaction and loyalty, higher profits, lower employee turnover, increased productivity, enhanced teamwork, etc. Leaders within healthcare organizations must set the tone with empathy, by putting patients first, before the metrics, and the rewards will follow.
Professional Development Implications: Talent Screening, Leadership Development, Succession Planning, Professional Development, & Team Dynamics.
KMACC SOLUTIONS, LLC offers EQi-2.0 assessments endorsed by the APA, individual coaching, and customized group training that focuses on EQ from a healthcare perspective. Assessments can be utilized for individual contributors, teams, or leaders. Individual rater or 360 assessment options are available.