It should be clear that empathy in healthcare provides tangible benefits. Every healthcare company needs to carefully consider empathy and how to make sure they are using it to their advantage.
Here are seven examples of empathy that illustrate how healthcare companies are using empathy as an integral tool for driving business success.
Example of Empathy #1 – Sanofi: Chief Patient Officer Position
In 2014, Sanofi created the position of Chief Patient Officer. In their press release about their hiring of Dr. Anne Beal for the new position, they said her role would be to:
“further elevate the perspective of the patient within Sanofi so the company’s future healthcare offerings can better incorporate the unique priorities and needs of patients and caregivers in a variety of Sanofi activities, ranging from early stage R&D through to on-market availability of novel healthcare solutions.”
In other words, they created a position to help create a culture of empathy and to specifically make sure that their patients and potential customers would be having an empathetic experience at every possible touchpoint.
Another buzzword in healthcare these days is patient centricity. A patient-centric company is a company concerned with making sure patients are treated with empathy.
Sanofi creating this position for a hopeful top-down effect throughout the culture is a great example of a healthcare company harnessing the power of empathy for good. Beal sees herself as a kind of “internal coach” who helps everyone in the organization utilize best practices for creating a patient-centered experience at every touchpoint. Her job is to help bring value to patients, physicians, and to Sanofi.
Sanofi’s patient-centered framework shows empathy in healthcare in action – source
What you can learn from Sanofi: Consider putting someone in the company in charge of empathy. Whether you create a new position like Sanofi did or not, it’s important that at least one person within the company is truly focused on creating an empathetic culture and patient experience.
Ideally, this should spread throughout the company. Having a central person, like Beal is for Sanofi, can help to encourage empathy throughout the organization.
What you can implement from Sanofi’s example of empathy:
● Hire for empathy. During the interview process, be looking for empathic employees. It will pay off. Medical Staffing Network suggests that you can gauge a candidate’s empathy skills to an extent by how they respond to questions about dealing with difficult situations and handling stress.
● Empathy training. There are a number of courses, programs, and workshops, that can benefit all employees. Consider adding empathy training to the mix for all employees.
● Talk about empathy. Make sure employees at all levels are thinking about it and working to create patient-centric empathetic experiences for the healthcare consumer.
Example of Empathy #2 – EMD Serono: Using Tech to Boost Empathy
Pharmaceutical firm EMD Serano created something called MS from the Inside Out. They harnessed the power of technology in an innovative way as a tool for improving empathy.
MS from the Inside Out is a virtual reality program that helps doctors actually experience what some symptoms of MS can be like for patients. Because many symptoms of multiple sclerosis are invisible, it can hard for medical professionals to truly understand what the patient is going through.
Adding a deeper understanding by actually having doctors experience what a symptom feels like is a way of boosting empathy towards patients. This VR experience can also help caregivers and loved ones get a better understanding of what the person with MS is going through.
What you can learn from EMD Serano: Be innovative! Try to think outside the box. Technology can be harnessed as a powerful empathy tool.
What you can implement from EMD Serano’s example of empathy: You can ask yourself and team these guiding questions:
● Is there a way you can use technology as a tool for increasing empathy?
● Can you use technology to collect data that will help improve the patient experience?
● Is your website an engaging and empathetic experience?
● Could an app or even a game benefit your company while also being helpful or enjoyable for the consumer?
● Is there a way you could use VR to benefit any of your stakeholders?
Example of Empathy #3 – HealthLoop: A Startup to Help Physicians Automate Empathy
Describing empathy as something that can be automated seems like an oxymoron but there are ways to streamline and simplify the process of creating empathetic experiences in healthcare. One such way is through communication, specifically email.
Startup HealthLoop helps doctors send personalized messages to patients. The catch is that these messages are automated. This innovative approach to communication results in patients that are more engaged and satisfied as well as physicians that are able to better keep track of their post-op patients with minimal time costs.
Preliminary results have shown that this kind of automated empathy-driven communication leads to lower readmission rates which means higher reimbursements from Medicare. Importantly, it also seems to improve a patient’s health literacy. It sounds like a win-win, though some physicians are understandably cautious about the seemingly impersonal, automation factor.
What you can learn from HealthLoop: Empathy in healthcare is about real, human connection and this cannot be fully automated. However, there are some ways to automate empathy when designing spaces, processes, and communication.
What you can implement from HealthLoop’s example of empathy: Consider the time cost of certain empathetic behaviors and try to automate some of them without losing the actual empathy.
● Add empathy into otherwise sterile experiences like email and phone communication.
● Create processes for your employees to follow when engaging with the healthcare consumer that will ensure empathetic communication. Try a checklist.
Example of Empathy #4 – GE Healthcare: Better Imaging Experiences for Pediatric Patients
This is a great example of a simple idea making a big difference. By making MRI machines with imaginative, adventure-themed designs, the experience of having imaging done goes from “terrifying to terrific” for many children.
This empathy example results in higher patient satisfaction for both the pediatric patients and their parents. In addition to happier patients, there are cost savings by drastically reducing the number of sedations necessary.
GE’s Adventure Series started when industrial designer Doug Dietz met a young patient and “had the chance to see the room through the girl’s eyes for the first time.”
Empathy was all it took for Dietz to turn the scary experience of that little girl into a new line of scanners to improve the experiences of countless other little girls and boys.
What you can learn from GE Healthcare: A basic component of empathy in healthcare is understanding the patient experience. At the very least, you should make the effort to ask patients what their experiences are like and where there pain points are within the system. Consider these questions:
● Are you considering every part of the patient experience?
● Do you take the time to consider what it might be like to live with a certain health condition?
● Do you take the time to consider what it’s like to actually navigate the healthcare system as a person who is sick?
● Once you understand what a particular experience might be like, can you find a way to improve this experience?
What you can implement from GE Healthcare’s example of empathy:
● Try to see through the patient’s eyes like Doug did. Think about every aspect of the experience.
● Ask patients where their pain points are when engaging with you. Listen and try to implement changes to make the experience better.
Example of Empathy #5 – Cleveland Clinic: “Empathy by Design” Philosophy
The Cleveland Clinic has a reputation for being a world-class place to receive healthcare, consistently ranking high on various “Best Of” lists. Part of their success can be explained in the role empathy plays in their overall philosophy of care.
They’ve made a conscious effort to make sure empathy is involved in every part of the patient experience. An annual event at the Cleveland Clinic, the Patient Experience: Empathy + Innovation Summit, helps train others in healthcare to use empathy. Empathy by design, according to Chief Experience Officer Adrienne Boissy, is about learning how to “anticipate how patients AND caregivers feel and deliver solutions to care for both.”
Another example of how the Cleveland Clinic has a clear understanding of the importance of empathy is a viral video they made in 2013. The video gives a moving picture of the idea of empathy, of seeing the emotions – good and bad – of others in the healthcare setting.
They describe empathy as a great connector and say, “Empathy is our watchword. It’s how we view each patient who comes through our doors.” The overwhelmingly positive response to the video has shown that the idea of empathy in healthcare deeply resonates with patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers.
What you can learn from the Cleveland Clinic: Empathy is largely about responding to other people in real time situations. While that is certainly important and should remain so, ask yourself:
● Are you making the effort to anticipate how the healthcare consumer is feeling?
● Do you consider both patients and caregivers? What about your employees?
What you can implement from Cleveland Clinic’s example of empathy:
Like the Cleveland Clinic, make empathy the foundation of everything you do.
● Adopt an empathy by design philosophy and watch the experience of employees and consumers alike improve measurably.
● Utilize surveys. Ask what the consumer wants and use survey tools to check in with patients and caregivers and consumers to see how their experiences with you make them feel.
● Analyze the results. Find out what’s working and what isn’t. Ask how you can be better. Then, respond accordingly whenever possible.
Example of Empathy #6 – Walgreens: Disability Hiring Initiative
Walgreens helped create a culture centered around empathy in part through their campaign to hire more workers with disabilities. This resulted in some unexpected results.
As Randy Lewis, former VP at Walgreens and the father of a son with autism, wrote for the Seattle Times:
“Walgreens found that people with disabilities perform as well or better than the typically able. Plus, they have fewer accidents and reduced workers-compensation costs. They have better employee retention and less absenteeism. The company did not have to sacrifice any business.”
Working with colleagues with disabilities also taught workers how “to deal with each person as an individual and not to make assumptions,” Lewi writes. This newfound empathy-focused drive was able to spread throughout the company’s culture, eventually impacting customers at Walgreens locations across the country.
What you can learn from Walgreens: In selling your product or service, it’s easy to forget the bigger picture. Consider:
● Are there ways to expand your impact on the lives of the people you are trying to serve?
● Are you treating a full human or just an illness?
● Is there a way to show that you recognize that the healthcare experience is just one part of people’s lives?
What you can implement from Walgreens’ example of empathy:
● Try sponsoring events and initiatives that help people with particular illnesses.
● Get involved in your community.
● Hire patients to help you improve what you offer.
Example of Empathy #7 – monARC: Empowering Patients and Accelerating Research
monARC is a unique digital platform that engages and empowers patients while helping them get involved with clinical trials. This helps to accelerate vital research. One way they have made this a success is by seeking out and learning from real patients and caregivers.
Using WEGO Health Experts, they found Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) patients and caregivers to serve on an advisory board. This advisory board helps monARC shape their IPF Patient Research Network.
Turning to patients and caregivers with lived experience in the healthcare system is an empathetic approach that has a big payoff. The unique insights of these patients and caregivers helps monARC better understand the challenges of the disease which helps them improve their service.
What you can learn from monARC: In healthcare, the most important stakeholders are the patients and caregivers. Are you including their voice? Have you taken the time to learn from them?
What you can implement from monARC’s example of empathy:
● Start an advisory board of patients and caregivers to gain valuable insight into how you can be better.
● Hire a Patient Expert. Patients Experts not only have lived experience in the healthcare system but they also possess a range of professional skills that could help you. WEGO Health Experts is a marketplace of vetted highly qualified Patient Experts you can collaborate with at every stage of your product life cycle. You could use it to find a Patient Expert to help you improve your business success.
Sanofi, EMD Serano, HealthLoop, GE Healthcare, Cleveland Clinic, Walgreens, and monARC are just a few examples of empathy among healthcare companies. These successful businesses are using empathy to improve both the patient experience and the bottom line.
There is no question that when empathy in healthcare is a core value, good things happen. Empathy promotes a more engaged company culture with a happier and more productive workforce. It raises trust and boosts how people see the company.
The good news is that empathy can be taught. Training employees on cultivating the skill of empathy or creating new programs or products centered around empathy requires some investment.
However, this investment pays off as empathy almost always ends up saving you money in the long run and often helps drive growth and increase profits. As Brené Brown says, empathy is a choice, but for healthcare companies, it should be the easiest decision you make.
Which of these examples of empathy will you model after?
Kayla is a writer, marketer, and consultant whose work is often informed by her experiences as a patient. As someone living with MS for over a decade, she finds it particularly meaningful to help healthcare companies improve the patient experience.