Healthcare: A Galaxy of Feelings

Patients feel caregivers’ empathy, shapes their experience

nurse handing food tray to patient

By: Toby Cosgrove, MD

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Patients come to the hospital at the most vulnerable times in their lives. They’re faced with critical conditions. They’re frightened. They need the full attention of dedicated caregivers.

But disease and injuries are complex. Caregivers need to focus on test results, data, disease processes, logistics and, of course, the patient.

Redefining quality

Those of us in the healthcare profession have always defined quality in terms of outcomes. But outcomes are only half the story; the other half is each patient’s experience.

Patients may not know how to clinically measure outcomes. They may not recognize the technical aspects of a great heart surgery or neurosurgery.

But they can measure their experience. They know if their rooms are clean. They know if people smile at them. They know if people are polite. They understand about food, and about how the organization looks and feels.

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A galaxy of feelings

Caring for the whole patient calls for kindness, courtesy and empathetic behaviors. It includes wellness, a smoke-free environment, and access to fitness opportunities. It means art, music and architecture that restore the spirit and make human connections.

There’s a whole galaxy of feelings and impressions involved in the healthcare encounter. We have a name for it: “patient experience.”

Transforming Cleveland Clinic

Recently, I gave a talk on patient experience at healthcare consultant firm Press Ganey’s National Client Conference in Washington, DC. I told people how we transformed Cleveland Clinic from a doctor-centered to a patient-centered organization.

I described how all 43,000 of our caregivers attended sessions to learn or reinforce compassionate communication and to share best patient experience practices. I showed how our organization is slowly but surely nudging our patient satisfaction scores upward with innovative tactics like our Quiet at Night initiative and a newly redesigned patient gown.

Press Ganey presented me with their first-ever Innovator Award which I was proud to accept on behalf of our Cleveland Clinic family of caregivers.

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In presenting the award, Press Ganey CEO Patrick T. Ryan said, “Cleveland Clinic is proof that institutions can improve the entire patient experience, while simultaneously meeting the demands of today’s cost environment.”

“The Clinic offers our industry many examples of what is right with healthcare today, chief among them that every member of their institution is committed to a never-ending journey of improving the entire patient experience,” Ryan added.

Care that honors people

Later, I recalled the words of Rene Favaloro, M.D., the Cleveland Clinic surgeon who performed the first published coronary artery bypass in 1967. Dr. Favaloro was renowned as a kind and generous caregiver. He wrote: “The patient is more than an illness. He has a soul.”

Our care needs to honor the whole person and all that a person’s life reflects. Empathy lies at the very heart of the healthcare profession. Our job is to put that empathy to work for our patients, families and the health of our communities.

Delos M. Cosgrove, MD LinkedIn Profile

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