1. We’re in a Service Industry, so Serve

A theme last week across the internet was patient-centered care.

Paul Levy started with this post. (BTW – If you happen to be a health care amateur, you should be reading Mr. Levy’s blog. He is the CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and one of only two CEOs that I know of who blogs, and writes on topics that most hospital CEOs wouldn’t.)

Nick Jacobs posted this (he is the other CEO that blogs, he works at Windber Medical Center, a Planetree hospital that seems to have actually made the patient its “first” priority). Mr. Jacobs’ post is in response to CNN news personality Glenn Beck’s personal encounter with the health care industry. The Health Care Blog also picked-up Mr. Beck’s patient-care problem.

As it happens, Mr. Jacobs happens to be at Hospital Impact discussing a recent article in the New York Times that discusses recent research suggesting poor physician/patient communication (really? but, it is a two-way street). Advanced cancer patients don’t seem to be displaying much emotion in the presence of physicians.

Quite a few instances of empathic issues in a relatively short period of time. People often have a strong distaste for hospitals based mostly upon how they are feeling physically when they arrive at the door. We can’t change that. We must recognize that we have an opportunity to change perceptions when a patient seeks care (and if you explore any of the blogs I have linked to in this post you will find multiple examples of providers who deliver exceptional care). What we can change is this: how each and every one of us relates empathetically to patients (including administrators, direct patient care personnel, housekeeping, etc…).

In his book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink tells us that the Information Age is over and in its stead is the Conceptual Age (I am a futurist so I really enjoyed the book, but no matter your thoughts on change, read his book, I promise you will enjoy it). Short (doesn’t really do it justice) summary: Traditional left-brain thinking (Pink calls it L-Directed) will give way to right-brain thinking (R-Directed) for several reasons. To deal with this transition we must develop six senses. One of the senses is empathy: “Empathy is the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position and to intuit what that person is feeling.” And lovely for us, Pink talks about how empathy directly impacts health care: physicians need to empathize with patients to provide the proper level of care to today’s patients. Medical schools are building communication and empathy skills into their curricula.

This is just a start. As a system we must not depend on our employees entering our facilities with the necessary level of empathic education, we must develop programs to build and foster empathy in every employee that works for us.

And even if empathy doesn’t improve patient care directly (I for one feel that it will, and Pink gives a poignant example in his book), it is the right thing to do as humans.

Principle #1: every employee in our own system works to serve patients. Patient care will be the reason for every decision we make.

UPDATE! Some more on Mr. Beck.