Blog » Convey Compassion for a Better Patient Experience

Convey Compassion for a Better Patient Experience

Created Mar 24 2016, 08:00 PM by Lippincott Solutions
  • patient empowerment
  • Patient satisfaction
  • Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey
  • compassion
  • patient centered care

Friday, March 25, 2016
Convey Compassion for a Better Patient Experience

When leaders at Lakeland Health, St. Joseph, MI, noticed that overall patient satisfaction scores were trailing behind ratings on specific measures like responsiveness of staff, effectiveness of communications, and even food quality, they realized something was amiss.

In an Aha! moment, they put a finger to it: “The compassion that we felt for our patients did not appear to be coming through,” health system CEO Loren Hamel MD, told Hospitals and Health Networks magazine.

“In general, staff had compassion,” he continued. “But there are better ways to communicate compassion, and we set out to learn them.”

As up to 2% of Medicare reimbursement in 2017 could be impacted by a hospital or health system’s scores on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey, organizations are paying close attention to their HCAHPS performance. By better demonstrating the compassion they already feel for patients, nurses hold the power to boost HCAHPS survey scores. 

Consider these strategies for happier patients, heightened scores, and higher reimbursement.


In the rush of clinical care, it can be easy to put off small talk with a patient to move forward on the never-ending to-do list. But skimping on chit-chat altogether is not the way to go. According to Press Ganey, in just 56 seconds, nurses can ask a patient about family, pets or hobbies — and profoundly impact the hospital stay for the better

“As a result [of those 56 seconds], the patient feels more in control, acknowledged and is likely to give her healthcare provider more information, allowing for better care,” HealthLeaders Media reported. “HCAHPS scores, clinical quality measures, and reimbursements are likely to rise. All because of a 56-second effort to make a personal connection.”


Avoid shorthand lingo that reduces a patient to his or her diagnosis. It may be quicker, but it also depersonalizes the patient to everyone within earshot of the comments (including the one making them).

“The patient is not the gallbladder in 202. It's Mrs. Smith who misses her dog, has a family," Christy Dempsey, CNO, Press Ganey, told HealthLeaders Media. "We have to get back to taking care of the whole person, not just the reason that they're in the hospital."


A nurse’s body language during interaction with a patient can make a huge difference in the stay. Press Ganey encourages nurses to sit, eye-level, with the patient when they speak with them rather to call to them from the door. “That compassionate connection will have a ripple effect: For instance, call light frequency goes down and requests for pain meds go down,” according to HealthLeaders Media.

At Lakeland Health, nurses are encouraged to smile—broadly—at patients in most cases. If the patient smiles back, all the better.

“Clinically, there are immediate benefits,” Dr. Hamel told Hospitals and Health Networks. “That smile translates into less need for pain medication, normalization of blood pressure, modulation of heartbeat, reduction of stress and more. And, it’s bidirectional: When a healthcare provider gets a smile from the patient, he or she puts on a bigger smile, reaping the same well-being benefits.”

Within 3 months of the launch of Lakeland Health’s compassionate care initiative, overall patient satisfaction scores soared above the 90th percentile.


By engaging patients in their care, nurses can help them regain a sense of power in what can otherwise seem an out-of-control time.

Press Ganey recommends bedside handoffs, in which nurses present shift reports by the patient’s side rather than out of earshot at the nurses station. Hourly rounding is another strategy for keeping call bells to a minimum while maintaining connection with the patient.

Even seemingly insignificant decisions, like which arm they prefer to have their blood pressure taken on or which way to go during a walk, can help patients feel more empowered.

Finally, a simple question that staff at Our Lady of the Lake, Baton Rouge, LA, routinely asks patients holds great satisfaction potential: “Is there something I can help you with today?”

“One patient told an environmental services worker that he hadn't spoken with his granddaughter since he'd been in the hospital and really wanted to,” Terrie Sterling, executive vice president and chief operating officer, told HealthLeaders Media. “Even though it was outside his area of expertise, that employee took responsibility for making sure that request was accomplished that day.”

Since 2008 when it ranked near the bottom of HCAHPS scores, Our Lady of the Lake has risen to a 3-star organization with the help of Press-Ganey. Not, that HCAHPS improvement was an end in itself.

"We really had to work on being more deliberate that patient satisfaction is the main goal," said Sterling, a former nurse. "Clinicians don't get excited about an HCAHPS score."

What kinds of strategies do you employ to demonstrate compassion and empathy to your patients?  Has this helped your facility's patient satisfaction scores?  Leave us a comment below!