Cleveland Clinic CEO: Time to rethink how we communicate for empathy

As healthcare becomes "life care" hospitals are evolving the patient experience with digital health tools and that calls for new language in some cases.
By Tom Sullivan
11:05 AM

Cleveland Clinic Chief Experience Officer Adrienne Boissy, HIMSS Chief Americas Officer Denise Hines, Cleveland Clinic CEO Tom Mihaljevic and Cleveland Clinic Executive CNO Kelly Hancock (left to right). 

CLEVELAND — Words matter, even when that might seem obvious and the way healthcare organizations communicate with both patients and clinicians is ripe to be reimagined, according to Cleveland Clinic CEO Tom Mihaljevic.

“We need to rethink established words in healthcare,” Mihaljevic said here at the HIMSS and Cleveland Clinic Patient Experience Summit on Tuesday. “We have to rethink how we communicate the things we care about to our fellow caregivers and our patients.”

Mihaljevic pointed to the terms consult with a patient and discharge as just two examples.

Consulting means providing an opinion but not taking ownership and, he added, no patients or caregivers are going to be receptive to just an opinion. When it comes to discharge, that mindset is a blocker to establishing a care continuum because leaving the hospital should not be the end of care.

“Continuity of Care is difficult to envision when we discharge someone,” he added.

Why is now the time to rethink those two and countless other terms?

The patient experience is transitioning from healthcare to life care, said Adrienne Boissy, Chief Experience Officer at the Cleveland Clinic.

Life care will be facilitated to a certain extent on digital health technologies as well as social determinants of health.

“Digital technologies are beginning to help providers understand consumer preferences,” said HIMSS Chief Americas Officer Denise Hines. “New tools and technologies will move form test to market phase more rapidly to meet ever-increasing consumer expectations.”

Technology alone, however, won’t make a comprehensive patient experience. Instead, healthcare organizations have to look at social determinants, Hines added, to understand the total patient environment, including transportation, food, and whether or not the person has a community of support.

Mihaljevic outlined “four cares” hospitals should consider: direct patient care, care for caregivers, for resources and for the community you serve.

“They are interdependent, I cannot do patient care well unless I take good care of caregivers, resources and the community,” Mihaljevic said. “Healthcare is a team sport.”

Cleveland Clinic Executive Chief Nursing Officer Kelly Hancock said that to achieve more empathy, healthcare organizations have to listen.

“We can do anything but we just can’t do everything,” Hancock said. “We still need to do a better job of teamwork, access, how we communicate.”

Hines added that achieving empathy will require all stakeholders to have a role. In addition to patients takin a more proactive tack and providers listening to them, digital health innovators will be accountable for producing results and meeting ever-increasing consumer expectations.”

“We have to become much more proactive partners in the healthcare journey of our patients. We strive to become lifelong partners in health and wellness,” Mihaljevic said. “We have an ethical responsibility to offer the highest quality care to as many patients as possible.” 

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