Empathy can impact patient satisfaction and retention
What do patients want from their doctors? Online appointment scheduling, short wait times, and WiFi in your waiting room are all attractive to patients, but what keeps them coming back is harder to quantify. In a recent survey, 85% of patients said they would choose a doctor who displays compassion and empathy — even over one who is less expensive.
Here’s what empathy in patient care looks like, and how it can impact other areas of your practice as well.
The 3 most important factors in patient experiences
In a qualitative study on what people want from their health care published in the Journal of Participatory Medicine, researchers asked participants to recall a positive and negative experience with health care, and to explain the factors that informed their experience. Of the 12 themes that emerged, the three most cited as being critical to health care experiences were having a doctor who listens to them, who is caring and compassionate, and who explains well.
In the study, 85% of patients said having a doctor who listens to them is important. A representative comment was, “My doctor listens to everything about me: how does my medical problem affect me as a person, daily life, emotions, my family, etc.”
In one study, 71% of patients said a doctor who is caring and compassionate is important. Some were even willing to pay out of pocket for a doctor they like.
Having a doctor who is caring and compassionate was cited as important by 71% of patients. Here’s a comment illustrating how this can negatively impact patient satisfaction if lacking: “I really didn’t like this one doctor. He didn’t even look at my face. He kept walking. I felt discriminated against because maybe he didn’t talk to me because my English isn’t so fluent and I’m old. He didn’t care.”
In contrast, one patient who said their doctor is caring and compassionate noted they had been seeing that doctor for over 20 years, and another said they pay out of pocket because they like their doctor.
Using the BATHE protocol to improve communication
For some doctors, showing empathy may come easily. Others may be worried about the time it takes to ask patients about their personal lives and prefer to focus only on their health concerns. But adopting effective communication strategies can greatly improve the patient experience, according to HIPAA Journal. In addition, “Poor communication increases the potential for medical errors, creates a negative working environment, and increases the cost of healthcare provision.”
The BATHE communication strategy establishes a rapport with patients and demonstrates provider empathy. It has been shown to improve patient satisfaction scores.
The BATHE protocol is one tool for establishing a rapport with a patient and demonstrating empathy. “This approach has been shown to be effective in outpatient settings at improving the patient experience and patient satisfaction scores,” notes HIPAA Journal. The purpose of this communication strategy is not to solve the patients’ problems but to put them at ease and to listen to their concerns. BATHE stands for:
- Background – What is going on in your life?
- Affect – How does that affect you?
- Troubles – What troubles are you experiencing?
- Handling – How are you handling them?
- Empathetic statement – E.g. “That must be very difficult for you.”
One study found that 65% of patient satisfaction was attributed to physician empathy, powerful evidence that showing empathy is the best opportunity to improve the patient experience. Even within your own staff, empathy can also improve staff retention, of critical importance during the ongoing staffing shortages in health care.
Maintaining humanity while using technology
These findings show that soft skills like empathy and communication are just as important, if not more, in a health care environment that is becoming increasingly reliant on technology. Telemedicine, EHRs, and digital patient education have their benefits, but “maintaining a hint of the human touch will continue to be important,” noted PatientEngagementHIT.
Providers showing empathy and a human touch is especially important in our increasingly technology-centric health care environment.
Providers need to establish a connection with the patient prior to using technology during the visit. And they can engage the patient while using these tools, such as by sharing their screen and explaining what they’re using it for. Showing patients an illustrated animation of the eye’s anatomy, such as in Rendia’s Exam Mode, can be a good way to connect with patients, especially those who feel anxious in medical settings. Unlike a surgical video, these animations are not scary, overly graphic or clinical and may put them at ease.
This works during an in-person exam or a virtual visit. Ophthalmologist Lance Kugler, M.D., uses Exam Mode to show patients animations and scans of their own eye during telemedicine appointments, such as this video on Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE). “I actually find it to be a more engaging and personalized experience than being live in an exam room with a patient,” he said. He noted that patients are often more relaxed and receptive at home in front of their computers.
Read one more: What Patients Don’t Want: Top Complaints About Your Practice