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April 12, 2017

3 keys to making 'emotional engagement' more than empty buzzwords

Daily Briefing

    By Hollie Freeman, Managing Director

    A clear theme emerged from the conversations my colleagues and I had with hundreds of health care leaders last month at The Beryl Institute for Patient Experience Conference: They were struggling to stay emotionally engaged in patient care under the ever-increasing weight of financial expectations.

    These realities aren't new for anyone in clinical care. But as health care becomes even more consumer-driven, it's more important than ever for providers and non-clinical staff to contribute to positive patient experiences, which can impact not only key performance metrics and reimbursement rates but also long-term loyalty and growth.

    How to make your patients want to pay for their health care

    So how do you find—or help your staff find—the balance to sustain an emotional connection? There are two basic approaches—but too many organizations actually exacerbate the problem by disproportionately investing in one area over the other:

    Address it culturally. Many organizations make substantive investments in education, coaching, training, customer service skills, and improving key interpersonal behaviors. The result is often a highly engaged staff that lacks the infrastructure to make efficient and effective organization-wide change.

    Address it operationally. Other organizations invest in facility design, throughput, budget planning, and emphasizing performance against moment-in-time metrics like HCAHPS. These efforts often fail because improvements take the form of targeted campaigns that motivate only specific employee behaviors and then fade. And these efforts come at the expense of creating the systems that are more likely to instill loyalty and retain patients over time.

    What we've seen, and what our time speaking with others at the conference reinforced, is that successful approaches combine elements of both strategies.  They include:

    • Infrastructure that enables efficient processes and operations;
    • A culture that committed to transformational change; and
    • Clearly defined governance and accountability.

    But it's not enough to just check these boxes. Here's what sets the best organizations apart in each area.


    Regardless of your organization's broader consumer strategy, you must establish consistent, enterprise-wide service standards, including customer-driven quality metrics, and you must provide staff with real-time visibility into performance against those goals.

    Other must-haves include quickly and successfully resolving problems across the organization, as well as active coaching and a formal staff recognition system.


    The most engaged and motivated organizations we've worked with have, unsurprisingly, been those that have created cultures of safety committed to constant performance improvement. But beyond that, they have cultivated employees who provide meaningful and memorable experiences for their patients.

    These facilities are most able to keep staff emotionally engaged in care delivery and improve safety and outcomes.


    The missing link for many organizations is a strategic plan that clearly outlines a path to consumer loyalty and the roles your teams need to play to build that loyalty. Showing staff how critical they are to the plan's success can help with engagement, too.

    Lastly, you must clearly define accountability across your organization to sustain and, where appropriate, reward performance.

    As our conversations revealed, the struggles at your front line are real and should not be dismissed—but they also shouldn't be seen as inevitable.  By carefully fostering a patient-centered culture without losing sight of key operational outcomes, it's possible to revitalize staff and achieve transformational outcomes.

    Learn more about building an empathetic culture


    Empathy forges stronger relationships between caregivers and patients and impacts your bottom line by fostering patient loyalty and satisfaction scores, which in turn impact value-based purchasing penalties.

    But despite how essential building a culture of empathy is, it's not an easy thing to do. Download our white paper to learn how to build a culture of empathy.


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