Do no harm. An oath, a credo, a path for those drawn to heal. Three small words. One enormous responsibility. A responsibility born from a deep, natural empathy for those who seek care in their hands.
Just for a moment, consider the myriad of variables that play in any successful healthcare interaction and outcome. Having the right medical staff in the right place at the right time with the right information and the right equipment all doing the right thing. Patients actively engaged in their own wellness behaviors. The alignment of other social determinants of health like a patient’s social, physical and economic environment. This myriad of variables manifesting in the moment of care, along with that foundational guidance.
Do no harm. We expect our individual clinicians to abide by this credo. And many do so, in spite of mounting evidence that they are the only ones we hold accountable to live up to that sacred oath in what we define as our healthcare system in America.
The core of healthcare, empathy for those in need of care and those delivering it, is at risk. We can talk about clinicians’ empathy or lack thereof driving clinical outcomes, about how empathy impacts patient satisfaction and compliance, about how empathy impacts the success or failure of companies. But we also need to look internally and fight hard within ourselves to regain our empathy for others.
Why Empathy is a Patient Safety Issue
Just as an oncologist battles a cancer, there are people working today to increase our health and safety by resuscitating empathy across the healthcare experience. One of those people is Adrienne Boissy, MD, MA. Dr. Boissy is chief experience officer at the Cleveland Clinic, and recently shared a diagnosis for strengthening empathy to create a better healthcare experience on HIMSS’s podcast series, STEPS to Value.
“When (people) think about empathy in healthcare, they’re still stuck in this notion that empathy is this weird thing that occurs between two people, between a doctor and their patient. We don’t get out of that box.”
Dr. Boissy recommended that we all need to expand our minds when thinking about empathy in healthcare. “Empathy can really embody an organization, it can be how [they] operate and design processes.”
She brought up an example of appointment scheduling and patient access. “If you know what it is like to try to access an appointment after you’ve found a lump in your breast, or lost the use of your legs because they were numb, if you truly immersed yourself in what the patient is going through at that moment, you’d enable an appointment immediately. You wouldn’t sit there on the phone and say a bunch of empathetic things. You’d enable another solution. People want to feel cared about.”
Connecting With Empathetic Care Around the Globe
For the past decade, Dr. Boissy and her team have developed a global focus on empathy and the “intersection between empathy and innovation and how they should be deeply intertwined to be maximally effective … the experience of care, what does that need to feel like and how can we redesign things to make people feel cared about, and valued, and known, by an organization?”
So draft yourself into the fight to return empathy into the healthcare experience. Draft yourself the next time your patient tries to schedule an appointment, or you start your interaction with your clinician by acknowledging them as a human first and clinician second, or you begin to shape your next piece of health policy legislation that will impact the daily safety and quality of life for millions of people.
It is time to fight to understand and share the feelings of everyone who makes up the healthcare system and all of the people who use it. The battle is upon us. It is time to fight. It is time to fight.
HIMSS Australia Digital Health Summit: The Now and Next of Digital Health
November 20–21 | Sydney, Australia
Exchange best practices and discuss the latest developments, challenges and to network, learn and explore solutions that leverage information and technology to improve patient safety, quality and efficiency to attain better clinical outcomes.
Originally published June 19, 2018; updated August 14, 2019