Patient Experience: Establishing the Human Connection

By Leslie Leite

patexp1There’s possibly no better way to bring the patient experience into focus than to spotlight the person behind every role – whether you’re the patient, a family member, a healthcare provider or other staff member.

Dr. Sumita Khatri opened her presentation at the Kindred Clinical Impact Symposium with a powerful video from Cleveland Clinic, where she is co-director of the Asthma Center. The video, Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care, opens with a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?”

There is no spoken narrative in the video, only the images of all the types of people you might encounter in a hospital – from patients and families to doctors, nurses and other staff members. As each person is shown, a sentence flashes on the screen that instantly humanizes him or her: “Waiting for a new heart,” “Recently divorced” or “Cancer-free for seven years,” for example.


Dr. Khatri asked those in the audience to share their reactions, and there were many tearful responses. Most said they felt that knowing even that one small piece of information about each person would make a positive change in how you spoke to him or her – that it helped create an instantaneous human connection.

patexp2While the Symposium audience is predominantly clinical, many have been in the hospital setting as patients, too, and already had an understanding of how important it is to see each patient you care for as a person. It’s equally important for patients to view their healthcare providers as people – to make that connection as human beings. Dr. Khatri noted how critical it is to establish that relationship from the beginning and for healthcare providers to demonstrate empathy for their patients and convey to them that they are valued and respected.

Dr. Khatri reinforced the importance of making that connection as human beings with exercises designed to challenge not only how we perceive people based on the role they are playing in our life but also how our communications can either establish barriers between ourselves and others or make a connection.

patexp3In one exercise, people were paired up and asked to discuss a neutral topic (desserts). In each pair, one of the two was told to preface his or her response to the other person’s comments with three different phrases – “Yes, but,” “No,” and “Yes, and.”

While the topic was the same, those two little words shaped not only the tone of the conversation but also the content. Participants said that beginning any answer with “but” felt like it shut down the conversation from the start. Conversely, opening with “Yes, and” led to more positive conversations. Participants also found that it led to deeper conversations that often went beyond the original topic.

From Dr. Khatri’s perspective, it’s about creating a safe space in which patients will feel more comfortable disclosing information and asking questions.

patexp4At the end of the session, one audience member had heads nodding with a question about how a manager should provide feedback to members of the medical staff who seem to struggle with the patient relationship. Dr. Khatri recommended peer-to-peer training, noting that organizational support was an important step for wide adoption.

Anthony Disser, who introduced the session, noted that at times it seems that clinical training strives to strip out empathy. But if people were trained to lose that skill, they also could learn to reincorporate it, he said.

Each year the Kindred Clinical Impact Symposium focuses on a topic to enhance clinical practice in the post-acute continuum and to maintain Kindred as a leader in clinical excellence. This seventh symposium focuses on effective care management and, specifically, fall prevention and medication management across the continuum. At this week’s symposium, held in Louisville, Kentucky, national speakers discuss these topics broadly, while internal speakers bring it home to Kindred attendees from across the country.