Putting empathy front and center in healthcare requires advanced EHRs – and means giving frontline workers the freedom to build personal relationships with patients as they see fit
While the standard ways of measuring empathy in healthcare are taken through surveys and patients rating their experience, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the degree of isolation and loneliness patients feel, and underscored the need to push empathy to a central concern on an organizational level.
This was the perspective of panel about how healthcare organizations can build a more robust culture of empathy and compassion, with moderator Adrienne Boissy, chief experience officer of Cleveland Clinic, who spoke as part of HIMSS21 Digital, along with Dr. Ben Moor, an anesthesiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, and Helen Riess, cofounder and CEO of Empathetics.
“We all went into this business to help people, and providers feel a disconnect between what they should be providing to the patients and what they were able to because of COVID,” Moor said. “You should be your patient’s advocate, even if that goes against what your organization is telling you.”
That perspective was backed up by Boissy, who said healthcare organizations have to be more bullish on empathy.
“We need to be much more assertive around the idea that the relationship is paramount. And everything we do, be it digital or human processes, requires a bit of guts to say this is in service of my patients and the relationship I have with them,” she said.
Reiss pointed out how risk-averse hospitals are, and noted how important patient safety and HIPAA compliance are, but explained there’s also a risk at not prioritizing relationships.
“How do we make empathy easier and infuse it into digital tools?” she said. “We have a unique opportunity now that everyone knows we can use EHRs to help bolster our empathic capacities. We’ve all learned that sharing computer screens engages patients in a way that really makes them partners in their healthcare.”
She said there’s an “unlimited opportunity to use EHRs to help healthcare workers connect in a way that we share information, and really [turn it] into what’s important to the patient.
“What does this person need to see and hear to understand what’s happening to them, and how can I convey that information in the most caring and connected way?” said Reiss.
Moor noted that a lot of empathic impulses stem from the simple fact of being human and doing what you feel is the right thing to do.
“We shouldn’t discount what care really is, which is being with a person who is suffering, if nothing more than to just bear witness to what they’re going through,” he said.
Boissy picked up on that point as well.
“There’s no point in having this brilliant EHR with 800 tabs if it doesn’t help you show up in the room as a human being,” she said. “My job when I’m in that room is to build relationships, not rehash 800 tabs of data.”