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The Return on Investments of Empathy In Measuring Patient Experience

Posted By Dr. Avnesh Ratnanesan, Friday, March 10, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Empathy in healthcare is both a traditional concept as it is a new-age buzzword. That’s because it has never lost its importance as a legitimate element of a patient’s healing process.

Simply defined, empathy is the capacity to walk in the shoes of another. Essentially, the ability to understand, appreciate and relate to someone else’s emotions. There is more chatter in the industry now about defining, teaching, learning and measuring empathy in healthcare than there has ever been.

Making emotions a visible part of your (formal or informal) measurement validates the feelings of patients which in turn, 3promotes patient satisfaction, enhances the quality and quantity of clinical data, improves adherence and generates a more therapeutic patient-physician relationship.

Ultimately, it all links back to the Net Promoter Score (NPS) or the Friends and Family Test (FFT). A key HCAHPS question, the NPS or FFT asks the patient point-blank if they would recommend the hospital to family and friends.

There’s your ROI.


Human emotions are core to every patient experience. At every stage of the patient journey, there is a feeling, sentiment or attitude that will, collectively, define the experience for the patient at the end of their engagement with a healthcare setting.

Hospitals are often obsessed with benchmarking against other hospitals in term of their respective performance indicators, however there is a need to first benchmark against the EXPECTATIONS of your own patient population:

  • If the experience < expectations, then you have a satisfaction deficit which leads to frustration and anger
  • If the experience > expectations, then you have a satisfaction profit which leads to delight and excitement

Frustration and anger are detractors to the patient experience. If these emotions are experienced, then you can be sure that the patient is on their way to relay their negative experiences to others or not return, or both! Feelings of delight and excitement on the other hand naturally motivate patients to ‘promote’ your healthcare setting to others.


Measuring emotions is key part of our 6E Framework, a step-by-step guide to producing a true holistic picture of patient experience. Its measurement impacts the full spectrum of this framework:

Understanding the real patient EXPERIENCE through EMOTIONAL data ENERGISES staff in their purpose and EXECUTION of solutions. Successes are repeated to produce EXCELLENCE in delivery and organizational capability in patient experience EVOLVES.

How do you draw these emotions out of a patient so you can understand, measure and respond appropriately? Some state it boldly, some 3hide their emotions through seemingly rational questions or casually drop a comment about their emotions, to test the waters on how it would be received in the healthcare setting. Pick up on these clues, don’t ignore it or change the topic.

For the uncertain and non-forthcoming patient, surveys are a great way to get emotional data. One would imagine that a survey asking about their emotions would not only surprise them but send a clear message that there is a space in that setting to talk about emotions, that a culture exists that encourages and supports emotions.


When the clinician and non-clinician are able to recognize the emotions around a patient, it allows them to be more authentic and honest in the support given to the person (not patient).

Clinicians are able to view the person’s emotions within a more accurate context and address it in specific ways: 2

  • Learning: Where the patient is fearful because of a lack of information, there is an opportunity for staff to help educate the patient to reduce his fear
  • Empowerment: Where the patient feels helpless in the face of his health, there is an opportunity for staff to develop the patient’s sense of power over the situation through education, tools and technology
  • Self-discipline: Where the patient is frustrated over their personal management of their health, there is an opportunity for staff to help the patient develop discipline through motivation, tools and technology
  • Feelings of control: Where the patient is overwhelmed with the amount of information around their diagnosis, there is an opportunity for staff to ensure that the communication of information is at a pace and volume that the patient is comfortable with and to involve the patient’s family members or friends in managing overwhelm.

When an organization can undertake the above in a systematic way, an ‘energy’ or a vibe starts to infiltrate through the ranks. Clinicians and non-clinicians start to discover or re-discover the meaning in their roles and the organization becomes more congruent with its purpose.

What’s the vibe like where you are?


1. Empathy and Emotional Intelligence: What is it Really About?’, International Journal of Caring Sciences, Volume 1 Issue 3, Alexander Technological Education Institute of Thessaloniki, Greece
2. Adapted/Inspired from information from a Chapter Abstract from Patient Emotions and Patient Education Technology:
3. “Let me see if I have this right...”: Words That Help Build Empathy, Coulehan JL, Platt FW, Egener B, Frankel R, Lin CT, Lown B, et al. (2001). 

Dr. Avi Ratnanesan is a medical doctor with broad healthcare sector experience including hospitals, biotech, pharmaceuticals and the wellness industry. He is a leading expert who coaches and consults to senior executives, entrepreneurs, practitioners, organizations and governments.

Tags:  emotion  empathy  expectations  experience  NPS  Patient Experience  ROI 

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The Patient Perspective

Posted By Randi Redmond Oster, Thursday, May 1, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, April 30, 2014

One thing I know is the hospital. Not because I’ve worked there or I’ve studied anything to do with clinical settings but because my son has Crohn's disease, my husband has a pre-existing condition and my 85 year old mother has lived with my family for 17 years.Between the three of them, I’ve been to the hospital over a dozen times, maybe close to 20. I’ve learned while the patient may have different symptoms, clinicians seem to share the same approach when dealing with a healthcare crisis. They focus on their job, just as they should. They are specialized experts. While the condition or symptom or pain may be new to us, they have been trained to find a solution.Facts prevail. Data is gathered. Recommendations made.

Each time as I sit and wait for the doctor to tell me what is wrong, my hands sweat. I feel lost, confused and scared. Deep down, I wish I was someplace else. But the doctor focuses with laser sharp precision on the medical issues.My heart just races as we are many times forced to choose a course of action. I may not make my best decisions when my heart is breaking for my loved one. One time, my son was hospitalized when our doctor was out of town. I had never met the doctor recommending surgery and wasn’t even sure she knew my name.Yet, I was supposed to trust her unconditionally. She focused on his diseased intestines, the surgeon on the operation, the anesthetist on keeping the patient asleep.

But who was looking at Gary’s emotional health? Who was helping Gary learn to cope with a chronic life long disease beyond recommending medications that could possible cause cancer down the road? I truly believe they care about their patients. However, the system does not give them the time to spend with us. In the hospital, we never knew when the doctor would arrive. We’d just wait and wait.When they did arrive they often seemed rushed. When Gary had to choose between three different medications, some with harsh side effects, the doctor visited the hospital room for 15 minutes. As he raced through the benefits and risks of each choice, did he know our point of view? Did he ask? I made sure to tell him.

After Gary’s operation, as he rested comfortably the next day, I went to the cafeteria to get some lunch. I saw some of the residents who kept poking Gary awake each day. I was thrilled that the operation was a success and wanted to thank them for their efforts. As I passed one of them on line, he stared down at his tray. I guess I was hoping this refrain didn’t apply as it did in my years as a corporate executive: "It’s business, it’s not personal.”

So from my corporate days, creating high performing teams, I’ll share the secret to my success. LISTEN to the customer and your business, just like your patients, will thrive.

Randi Redmond Oster is an award winning author of newly released Questioning Protocol. She worked in the corporate world as an electrical engineer and a process expert for almost 20 years. Her life – and her work – took a sudden turn when she had to care for her aging parents plus spend a month advocating for her chronically ill son in the hospital. Her Six Sigma skill set, engineering degree and compassion as a mom makes for compelling, engaging and valued sessions.


Tags:  experience  listen  patient  perspective 

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Perspectives from the Invisible Husband

Posted By Emily D. Tisdale, Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Updated: Sunday, November 17, 2013

My husband did not care for my former obstetrician.

When we found out that we were pregnant with our first child, I scheduled get-acquainted visits and selected the doctor I liked. Over the course of my pregnancy, he accompanied me to appointments and we tackled the journey together.

The birth of our son was stressful to say the least. Going into labor three weeks early and enduring a long labor process that ultimately resulted in an emergency C-section left our emotions raw. But, life went on and we moved forward as new parents.

Fast forward four years later as we’re expecting our second child. As I talked about getting in touch with the doctor that delivered our son, my usually calm husband became wildly animated.

"Ohhhh no, we can’t go back to her. She was awful!”

What? I searched my memory for instances that would have led him to have such a negative reaction.

"It’s like I was invisible,” he continued. "Of course, you and the baby are the most important part of all of this but she never even looked my way. I had to ask my questions as she was walking out the door!”

As I thought back through all of the appointments, I realized he was right. She never addressed him or asked if he had any questions or concerns during our appointments; she only focused on me. And while focusing on me (the patient) was good, including my husband (the family member) in the process would have been even better.

The patient experience has an impact on so many levels and is undoubtedly an important starting point. From the patient perspective, I thought everything was fine. However, when my husband brought up his concerns, I realized that healthcare experience – considering the needs of both the patient and their loved ones – must be what healthcare organizations consider as best practice.

As a new dad and my primary caretaker post-delivery, my husband had a number of questions and anxieties that he needed addressed. My doctor, as good as she was to me, failed to engage my husband in the process. How many times have other well-meaning providers delivered a good patient experience only to stop there? How much more could the experience be enhanced if loved ones were considered as an integral part of the equation?

The most successful healthcare organizations have initiatives in place to support not just the patient, but also the patient’s support network of family and friends. These touches, while often overlooked, can make a major impact on the patient’s peace of mind and overall experience.

Like other parents, we knew better the second time around on so many things. When we learned that we were expecting our second child, we made certain to select the doctor we felt would address both of our needs and ensure a true healthcare experience.

Emily D. Tisdale is the Founder & Principal Consultant of Recourse Resource Consulting, a healthcare experience firm based in Indianapolis, IN. Emily and her team partner with healthcare organizations to produce sustainable outcomes in patient experience, employee engagement, and marketing.

Tags:  experience  family engagement  healthcare  patient experience  physician 

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