A Brochure Can’t Communicate Empathy

Posted by Kristin Baird on October 27th, 2015 • No Comments »

Over the years, our data collection through mystery shopping and other qualitative research has confirmed that empathy trumps everything else in the patient experience. People need to know that you care and that they matter.

I was recently reading a discussion in an online forum about methods for keeping patients in the ED informed about their wait times. One hospital handed their ED patients a brochure when they registered explaining why they may have to wait. If you are extremely ill and in pain, how likely are you to:

  1. Read a brochure about why you are waiting
  2. Care

People in pain and under stress become very self-absorbed. And for good reason. They’re in pain. They want to know that someone cares and that they haven’t been forgotten.

I’m imagining how this brochure came to be. It may have gone something like this:

ED director: “Patients are upset about the wait time. They just don’t get it.”

ED physician: “It’s up to us to educate them. We need a brochure. Let’s contact marketing.”

Pretty soon there is a meeting to discuss how to best educate the uninformed about the basic principles of triage. The result is a glossy, single-fold, four color little number that no one will read because they are in pain, frustrated, scared, and vulnerable. But the team can check it off a list of tasks. Inform patients about wait times. Check.

When I talk about the need to keep people informed, it’s not with a poster or brochure. It is setting a standard where real live people walk out into the waiting room and talk with the patients and families. In those interactions, they can show empathy, apologize for the wait, and offer simple comfort measures like a blanket, pillow, or simple diversions for a child. That is how you show that you care. And that is what matters to patients and their families most.

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Baird Consulting

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