Top Story, Hospitals, Patient Engagement

Patient Experience Summit: Compassion, empathy matter in nursing

Patients expect to be treated like people, not identified by their illness or injury, Christy Dempsey, chief nursing officer at Press Ganey, said at the Cleveland Clinic’s Patient Experience Summit. “I want you to take a minute and remember that your patients are scared,” she said. “They need compassion.”

After Christy Dempsey, chief nursing officer at Press Ganey, had surgery to treat her breast cancer a few years ago, someone dressed in scrubs entered her hospital room, reached under Dempsey’s gown and said she was taking a look at the patient’s wound. “Who are you?” Dempsey asked.

“It is no longer OK to be just a great clinician,” Dempsey said Sunday at the sixth annual Patient Experience: Empathy + Innovation Summit, hosted by the Cleveland Clinic. Clinicians have to show compassion and empathy and, above all, make human connections with the people they treat.

On Monday at the same event, Bonnie Proulx, advanced-practice nurse in pediatric gastroenterology at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., related a similar story about her husband being hospitalized at a non-Dartmouth facility, asking the same, “Who are you?” question of a physician who barged in and quickly began rattling off test results.

Sponsored Post

Physician Targeting Using Real-time Data: How PurpleLab’s Alerts Can Help

By leveraging real-time data that offers unprecedented insights into physician behavior and patient outcomes, companies can gain a competitive advantage with prescribers. PurpleLab®, a healthcare analytics platform with one of the largest medical and pharmaceutical claims databases in the United States, recently announced the launch of Alerts which translates complex information into actionable insights, empowering companies to identify the right physicians to target, determine the most effective marketing strategies and ultimately improve patient care.

“When you go elsewhere and people don’t communicate, it’s frustrating,” Proulx said. At least her husband was alert enough to understand the doctor’s instructions, not to mention the fact that he’s married to a healthcare professional. “If that was an 80-year-old woman, she would go home and not take her meds, or take her meds and something bad would happen,” Proulx said.

Dempsey noted that being human does not take much effort. “It takes 56 seconds to make a connection with a patient,” she said. She then challenged everyone in attendance to go back to their organizations and ask clinicians one question: “Tell me one thing about your patient that has nothing to do with why they are in the hospital.”

Dartmouth-Hitchcock has a rule for its staff, clinical or otherwise: If you find yourself within 10 feet of a patient or visitor, acknowledge that person’s presence. Within 5 feet, introduce yourself.

Patients expect to be treated like people, not identified by their illness or injury, according to Dempsey. “I want you to take a minute and remember that your patients are scared,” she said. “They need compassion.”

Throughout her presentation, Dempsey interspersed the heart-wrenching story of her son-in-law, Aaron Pearson, a Springfield, Mo., police officer, who was shot through the eye in January. Pearson was put in a medically induced coma at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, and initially told he might never walk or talk again.

“Aaron was not the gunshot wound in bed No. 4. He was Aaron Pearson, daddy, brother, son, and so are all your patients,” Dempsey said.

With a little bit of compassion and a lot of good care, Pearson did regain his ability to walk and talk in less than four months, though he did lose use of his eye and had to retire from law enforcement. Last week, he was on the news in Springfield when he threw out the first pitch at a local minor-league baseball game, with many of his police colleagues in attendance.

Pearson will do the same for the major-league Kansas City Royals next week.

Still, it was a struggle for the family at times. A nursing assistant Dempsey overheard one night in the hospital complained that patients that day were being “needy.” That statement elicited a groan from the audience in Cleveland. “We needed to be acknowledged that we were in pain. Body language matters,” Dempsey said.

But one of Pearson’s nurses in the neuro-trauma ICU was so compassionate that Dempsey nominated her for a DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses. “She knew what she was doing was important. It wasn’t a task,” Dempsey recalled. When that nurse, Kylie Powers, won the award this month, Dempsey learned that six others had also nominated her.

Communication matters, according to Dempsey. “Healthcare is a team sport. We’re all in this together,” she said. No staff member should be afraid to help. “Any amount of care or decision we could give back to the patient is welcome,” Dempsey said. The same goes for family members. “Are you taking care of the family in the same way you’re taking care of the patient?” she asked.