When physicians and the hospital care staff show clinical empathy to patients, it can improve their satisfaction of care, motivate them to stick to their treatment plans and lower malpractice complaints, suggests a previous study.
In an article to be published in the edition of the New England Journal of Medicine
a Henry Ford Hospital critical care medicine physician describes in
candid detail about how her own near-death experience inspired an
organizational campaign to help health professionals communicate more
effectively and demonstrate more empathy to their patients.
‘Henry Ford's Physician Communication and Peer Support curriculum, geared for health professionals, is guided by empathy and compassion, beginning with an understanding of what matters most to patients and aligning them with patient values.’
Rana Awdish, director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Program,
writes in "A View from the Edge: Creating a Culture of Caring" that as a
patient "I learned that though we do many difficult, technical things
so perfectly right, we fail our patients in many ways."
In 2008 Dr. Awdish nearly died when a tumor ruptured in her liver,
leading to multisystem organ failure. The care team worked frantically
to save her but could not save the baby she was carrying. Her recovery
would include five major surgeries and multiple hospitalizations in
intensive care. She also experienced something unexpected: a kind of
"I was privy to failures that I'd been blind to as a clinician," she
says. "There were disturbing deficits in communication, dis-coordinated
care, occasionally an apparently complete absence of empathy. I
recognized myself in many of those failures."
Dr. Awdish says her patient experience inspired her to champion a
shift in culture for helping health professionals talk more effectively
with their patients at Henry Ford Hospital and throughout its parent
organization, the Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System. She used her
experience to drive home the point to leaders and others that
"everything matters, always. Every person, every time."
Henry Ford's Physician Communication and Peer Support curriculum,
launched in 2013, is guided by empathy and compassion, beginning with an
understanding of what matters most to patients and aligning them with
patient values. It's geared for physicians, residents, fellows, nurses
and other health professionals. Courses include:
- CLEAR Conversations. CLEAR stands for Connect, Listen,
Empathize, Align and Respect. A course in which health care workers
test their communication skills in stimulated conversation exercises
with Detroit-based improvisational actors who portray patients and
family members. It teaches how to navigate difficult questions and
respond to expressions of emotion. These exercises are videotaped,
allowing for immediate feedback. A mobile app offers easy access to tips
and videos for effective communication.
- A skilled communication workshop based on the 4 Habits of Effective Physician Communication model.
- Real-time shadowing. A trained observer shadows the
provider during a series of patient interactions. Best practice
behaviors and empathic communication skills are evaluated, and best
practice feedback is shared during a one-on-one debriefing.
- New-hire orientation, during which employees are
taught their value and purpose within the organization, not just to
their job. Discussions emphasize learning to recognize avoidable and
unavoidable forms of patient suffering. New employees are tasked with
reducing avoidable suffering.
"My experience changed me," says Dr. Awdish, who also serves as
medical director of Care Experience, which directs the patient
communications initiative across the health system. "It changed my
vision of what I wanted our organization to be, to embody."
She says her experience is a teachable moment across the spectrum of
health care as the focus shifts to respecting patients as more than
just someone with an illness or disease.
"By focusing on our missteps, we can ensure that the path ahead is
one of compassionate, coordinated care," Dr. Awdish says. "When we are
ashamed, we can't tell our stories. In the wake of painful experience,
we all seek meaning. It is the human thing to do, but it is also the job
of great organizations. The stories we tell do more than restore our
faith in ourselves. They have the power to transform."