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Empathy Shapes the Patient Experience

Posted by Kristin Baird on April 15th, 2011 • 1 Comment »

I’ve always known that if you want to be creative and energetic, you’ll do best by surrounding yourself with like-minded people. That philosophy was reaffirmed within minutes of arriving at the Beryl Institute’s  Patient Experience Conference this week. It was so energizing to be surrounded by amazing patient experience champions who, like me, are passionate about creating a better healthcare world for our patients, families, and all those who serve them.

One of the things that I took away included Colleen Sweeney’s work on the Empathy Project. Sweeney helps lead the patient experience effort at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, IN (I featured some of their work on innovation in my last book, Raising the Bar on Service Excellence.). Colleen, an RN, realized that the vast majority of patients coming into any hospital have some unspoken fears. So she sent out thousands of postcards to people in the community asking them to depict their fears in words or artwork on the back of a postcard. When the returns were in, she was able to understand more completely how people view hospitals. From there, she could explore how these fears play into their overall experience and what staff could do proactively to address the most common fears. I found the responses to be amazing. At the top of the list of fears is the spread of infection. Another common fear is that of encountering death (or, specifically, dead people) while hospitalized. I had no idea that these thoughts were so prevalent. The biggest takeaway with the Empathy Project is that we (on the inside of healthcare)  live, eat, and breathe hospitals as our way of life, but to the average person, hospitals are still scary places. The more we can do to quell those fears, the greater the healing experience for our patients.

What Sweeney learned is something we can all replicate in our own organizations on a daily basis. You don’t have to do a six-month study. Just start by walking around and asking patients about what concerns them most. What you learn might just surprise you.

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Baird Consulting

One Response to “Empathy Shapes the Patient Experience”

  1. Jason Wolf says:

    Kristin – Glad you enjoyed the conference and what you forgot to mention aside from the energy and excitement of bringing together so many professionals committed to the patient experience was your own contributions to the learnings of the group. We were lucky to have you and many other patient experience champions as part of The Beryl Institute Patient Experience Conference 2011 and look forward to seeing everyone next year! (if not sooner)


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