Cultivate caregiver empathy by sharing patient stories

Preview from the Nursing Executive Center meeting

Enhancing the patient experience is foundational to delivering on the promise of coordinated, patient-centered care. 

But how can organizations build a best-in-class patient experience? As attendees will learn at the Nursing Executive Center's 2011-2012 meeting series, there are three key steps:

    1. Ensure bedside nurses consistently convey empathy for their patients. 
    2. Overcome universal process barriers that can prevent caregivers from delivering an exceptional patient experience. 
    3. Diagnose institution-specific barriers—and capture patient perspectives to identify and overcome those barriers unique to each institution. 

Nevertheless, many bedside nurses struggle with the first step, to “see through the patient’s eyes” and understand the patient experience.

This is not because bedside nurses lack for caring. Rather, many younger nurses lack direct experience—having never been hospitalized nor had a loved one recently hospitalized—while experienced nurses struggle with empathy for the opposite reason. Over the course of their careers, many have cared for so many patients they have developed compassion fatigue. 

A simple strategy to sensitize nurses: Capture patient stories
Collecting and sharing patient stories can be a powerful way to reinforce the connection between caregivers and those they care for.

Yet the simple strategy has been tough to implement for many institutions. While these organizations have systems in place to capture patient stories, the systems often fail to capture most stories, a patient’s unique voice, or the details of the patient's experience.

And merely collecting stories does not guarantee success; organizations frequently struggle to share these stories in an emotionally impactful way—or even share the stories at all.  

What York Hospital discovered
At York Hospital, a 79-bed institution in Maine, patients and family members are encouraged to call a dedicated hotline known as “Care to Share” and leave a detailed message—as long as they like—about their hospital care. 

York’s leader in charge of patient experience reviews the answering machine daily and triages patient stories to the appropriate caregivers. This step allows care teams hear stories—told in the patient’s own voice—as soon as the patient leaves a message. Because patient stories are archived on the hospital server, they can be easily shared across multiple shifts and replayed when needed.

York encourages patients and family members to share their experiences by publicizing the “Care to Share Line” through flyers posted throughout the hospital. The poster contains the “Care to Share” number, a sincere request for all patients to share their story, and a clear explanation of how the patient story will be used.  

To ensure patients fully understand the intent of the “Care to Share Line,” the answering machine greeting reiterates all key information. For institutions interested in replicating York’s practice, the precise wording of the greeting message on the “Care to Share Line” is included below:

    Welcome to York Hospital’s “Care to Share” phone line, where you can record a message about your experience at York Hospital. Be it good or bad, complaint or compliment, we want to hear from you. The information you provide in this message will be shared with staff and administration so we may learn from you experience. Your call is anonymous, or if you prefer, you may leave your name and contact information at the end of your message to receive a follow-up call. Thanks for choosing York Hospital for your health care needs. We appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. Please begin your message after you hear the beep.

York implemented the “Care to Share Line” in July of 2011 and has received approximately twelve calls per week since the launch. Seventy-five percent of calls are placed directly by patients, with the remaining 25% placed by family members or friends. 

While York has consistently outperformed the state of Maine average for “Top Box” Overall Hospital Patient Satisfaction ratings—including achieving an 84% Top Box Score in 2011—leaders cite the “Care to Share Line” as an important component of their overall patient experience strategy. 

Leaders at York estimate creating the voicemail system directly on the hospital server required roughly fifteen hours of IT assistance. The leader charged with reviewing messages on the “Care to Share Line” spends no more than one hour per week reviewing messages and triaging them to the appropriate care team.

Register now
Nursing Executive Center members may register now for the national meeting, Delivering on the Promise of Coordinated, Patient-Centered Care, to learn more about the three steps for a best-in-class patient experience. Not a member of Nursing Executive Center? Learn more on our website.


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