Moving beyond Patient Satisfaction: Empathy Can Go Long Way

Fred Lee, author and former senior-level hospital administrator and Disney University cast member, speaks about patient satisfaction at the World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Summit.

It’s a small world after all – especially when the topic is building patient loyalty.

That’s the uncommon, but recognizable wisdom a best-selling author who had the dual and enviable distinction of working at Disney and as a top executive at a major medical center had for a gathering of international healthcare leaders at the Bupa Global Providers Summit, Saturday, in Las Vegas. The inaugural Bupa Summit kicked off the 6th World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress, Nov. 3-6, at Caesar’s Palace.

“We will never go from good to great as long as we think we are only in the service business,” said Fred Lee, a nationally recognized patient consultant and author of  “If Disney Ran Your Hospital: 9 ½ Things You Would Do Differently,” who used examples from his professional experiences to provide similarities between the Magic Kingdom and healthcare facilities.

Medical Tourism Congress Kicks Off

Lee told a group of more than 50 representatives from Bupa, a leading international health insurance provider with members in more than 190 countries, that both hospitals and Disney provide an “experience,” not just a service and that hospitals would be wise to emulate strategies that bring out the best behaviors in workers and provide the best emotional experience for patients.

“Satisfied patients can’t teach hospitals how to improve,” said the former Disney University cast member and senior vice president at Florida Hospital. “A person with compliments can teach you nothing, but a person with complaints can teach you something.”

Lee said hospitals have to be in more than the business of courtesy and competence. He said that hospitals spend too much time concerned with superficial service requirements rather than expressing true empathy toward patients. For this reason, he said, hospitals rarely go from good to great standards of patient satisfaction.

“Medicine is about both emotional and physical reactions,” said Lee. “A good portion of the patient experience is dependent upon emotional reactions to perceptions.”

Lee said satisfied patients are not a fair barometer to gauge experience, and that healthcare officials need to ask more open-ended questions in patient satisfaction surveys. Citing “fan mail” his wife, a former nurse, received, Lee said words like “caring and cared,” and “kind and kindness” were valuable in measuring true patient satisfaction.

Stories to Tell

“Dissatisfied patients have stories to tell,” he said. “Satisfied patients don’t have stories to tell. Satisfaction is only one data point on a scale of perceptions. From ‘we hate you to we love you.’”

Lee said healthcare providers need to avoid closed-ended questions, which he said can too often shape culture based on expectations. Officials, he said, who make decisions based on these responses should liable for when the unexpected occurs.

Speakers at the Bupa Summit, which gathered hospital administrators and clinical leaders from the most renowned hospitals and centers of excellence from across the globe share best practices in areas like hospital quality programs and hospital performance among others including:

  • Bundled Pricing & Affordable Healthcare Service
  • Collaboration between Payors and Providers
  • Hospital Performance
  • Hospital Quality Programs

“Creating transparency by bringing together both healthcare consumers and providers in an educational forum is our core mission,” said Renée-Marie Stephano, president of the Medical Tourism Association®. “Our relationship with Bupa, because of its long history in international health benefits, will open more flexible avenues for medical coverage and enable providers to pass on distinguishable, yet affordable care to patients around the world.”

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