In the health care field, expressing and coaching empathy serves an even greater purpose for achieving the goals of your clinic…
Provide patients a positive experience and it not only improves retention but can also increase referrals. One way to achieve this goal is to offer a more efficient or convenient customer service process, such as by enabling patients to complete intake forms online or to correspond with staff via email. Another strategy for promoting the patient experience involves something that many business owners may not think about: coaching empathy for themselves and staff members.
Why empathy matters in business
In business, it’s often said that it’s important to know your target audience’s biggest pain points. What is it that keeps them up at night? Where do their greatest challenges lie? Answering these questions fully requires that you put yourself in their shoes.
If you can’t see life through your patients’ lenses, you can’t truly understand how to best help them. And if you can’t understand how to best help them, even your best marketing campaign can fall flat because it doesn’t effectively address their pain points. It misses the mark and, more importantly, might make prospective patients feel like you don’t know them well enough to provide the help they need.
Coaching empathy in healthcare
When your business is within the health care field, expressing and coaching empathy serves an even greater purpose.
Research reveals that empathy is critical from a patient loyalty standpoint, for instance. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing found that when patients felt that they received caring and individualized attention — which was defined as empathy — they felt more loyal to that health care institution.
A 2013 systematic review takes this one step further, adding that practitioner empathy is correlated with patient satisfaction, which strengthens the patient’s feelings of enablement. The review’s authors suggested that this equates to reduced anxiety and distress, resulting in “significantly better clinical outcomes.”
Empathy is not sympathy
It’s important to recognize that empathy and sympathy are not the same things. With empathy, you are seeing things through the other person’s eyes. With sympathy, you only see things from your own.
Imagine that you are having a conversation with a close friend and sharing a situation that you are currently struggling with. If they respond with empathy, they might acknowledge that you are in a tough spot and validate the feelings you have. This can leave you feeling as if you aren’t “crazy” or that you’re not alone, empowering you to take positive actions to improve your circumstances.
Conversely, if your friend were to simply respond with sympathy, they would likely say, “I’m sorry you’re in this situation” or “I feel really bad for you.” Although this might offer some consolation, it doesn’t necessarily evoke a positive response. It may even have the opposite effect, making you feel more sorry for yourself and possibly inciting a feeling of defeat.
How to show your chiropractic patients empathy
There are a few strategies that, if followed, can help you create a more empathetic patient experience. They include:
- Actively listening when they speak, not formulating your response as they are talking, potentially keeping you from hearing what they said
- Not multitasking as they might not feel heard if you are charting or otherwise not completely engaged in the conversation
- Paraphrasing what they’ve told you to ensure that you understand them clearly and to also give them the opportunity to correct any misunderstandings
- Asking questions for more clarity, showing them that you want to see things from their viewpoint and understand where they are coming from
- Looking beyond the patient or seeking to understand what else might be going on in their life that is negatively impacting their health (stressful job, going through a divorce, etc.)
- Keeping an open and welcoming posture, such as by sitting or standing with your arms at your side versus folded across your chest (which can make them feel as if you are closed off)
- Giving them a fair amount of time and not rushing the appointment, i.e. sitting down with them to answer their questions instead of answering them while halfway out the door
Providing empathy to patients can increase their loyalty and maybe even improve their treatment outcomes. Coaching empathy to staff, and practicing it yourself, are just a few ways to create an empathic practice that achieves these goals.