Patient Experience Dept. RX: Empathy Specialist Consult.

Julia Mastropaolo 03/09/16 - 8:59 pm

As a healthcare marketer for a couple decades plus, I have a pretty good understanding of some heavy-duty clinical terminology. From pelvic floor disorders to structural heart disease to bariatric surgery, I’ve marketed just about every health program you could imagine. While the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment may vary, there is one ingredient to every campaign that never changes. Empathy. As healthcare marketers, we are the hospitals’ Empathy Specialists, delving deep inside the crevices of patients’ thoughts, fears, hopes and feelings to emotionally connect with them in a positive, memorable way. At Brogan & Partners, we utilize an “Empathy Mapping” user experience exercise for new branding projects that involves identifying what target audience members “See, Think, Feel and Do.” Clients always find it enlightening.

Hence, it appears a no-brainer to me that healthcare marketers should be part of, if not leading, the Patient Experience Department. Because, quite simply, your hospital’s collective empathy is a major contributor to your brand promise and brand truth. And with HCAHPS on the forefront of all hospital minds, empathy can pay off with better scores and better compensation.

Larry Daly, Director of Planning & Business Development at Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw, has assumed leadership of the patient experience discipline at the hospital. “Every department has skin in this game, because in the end, the patient is the reason we are all here,” he explains. “But someone needs to shepherd the process of embedding patient-centered care into the organization and who better than Marketing? We’re largely about communication, which is critical to the brand, but we also have a role in communicating to all internal parties to enhance the patient experience.”

The Cleveland Clinic was the first to establish an Office of Patient Experience and appoint a Chief Experience Officer, a good idea when “the brand is seen as a strategic driver of the organization,” attest branding authors Claudia Fisher and Christine Vallaster. The classic Cleveland Clinic empathy video does a stellar job of communicating the critical importance of empathy within their culture.

Anna Reisman, M.D., verifies that there is nothing like experiencing a hospitalization, either as a patient or close family member, to truly appreciate the ineffability of the hospitalized patient’s experience. Only then can you “grasp the miserable combination of anxiety, frustration, boredom, discomfort, fear and uncertainty that rolls through a hospitalization in seismic waves.” She remains cognizant of a simple checklist she learned as a med student from a rather tough surgeon who turned to mush (in a good way) when it came to putting the patient first:

  • Treat the patient like a family member, with dignity and respect.
  • Be gentle and honest.
  • Don’t rush.
  • Make them comfortable.
  • Acknowledge their fear.
  • Don’t sit behind a desk.
  • Encourage them to ask questions.
  • Grade yourself by how you feel when you leave the room. If you leave with a smile, give yourself an A.

With the inevitable entry of EDCAHPS, as well as CMS recognition that a patient’s perception of ED care is a significant indicator of their overall hospital experience rating, ED staff training should be front and center. This is the goal of the Press Ganey  EDCAHPS Pilot Program. As part of orientation at Renown Regional Medical Center (Reno, NV), new ED staff members are asked to report to the department. On arrival, they are directed to a waiting room where they must sit for four hours without being given any information. They are then taken to a treatment room where the curtain is closed, and again, no information is shared. Yet they can hear everything being said on the other side. Cruel and unusual punishment?  No, just effective empathy training. And a lifelong memory that “This is what patients go through every day. Don’t forget it.” (SHSMD Futurescan 2016)

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to create an empathetic workforce. But the instruments we use can cut to the heart of issues like a scalpel in the hands of a seasoned surgeon. In addition to emersion into the patient situation, role playing and education, hospitals are employing new tools every day. For example, the Covenant Patient Experience Manager routinely makes rounds with hospitalists. At the end of the day, she uses the wealth of her patient empathy perspective in answering one simple hospitalist question: What can I do better? Whether it’s commonplace, unique, subtle or obvious, the answer is a dissection of specifics that can make the total difference in the experience of a hospital patient.

Luckily, a hospital needn’t look far to fulfill the prescription for empathy expertise to improve the patient experience. It’s located right in their Marketing Department. (Narcissists need not apply.)

How is your hospital doing in the patient experience arena? Is Marketing part of the equation?

Blog Category: Healthcare

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