The Customer Confidential Podcast

Healthcare’s Empathy Factor: Capturing Real Patient Experiences

Dr. Adrienne Boissy, a neurologist and the chief medical officer at Qualtrics, advocates for a comprehensive patient-centric approach to measuring the healthcare experience.


Healthcare’s Empathy Factor: Capturing Real Patient Experiences

Measuring emotional connection, though not an easy task, is essential to build a culture of empathy and understanding at companies across industries. This is especially true in the healthcare industry, where the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), the government-mandated patient and hospital satisfaction scale, is the standard measurement method.

But Dr. Adrienne Boissy, guest staff neurologist at Cleveland Clinic and chief medical officer at Qualtrics, believes HCAHPS’s 29-question survey is too limited to drive meaningful impact.

“It doesn't ask how we made people feel,” Adrienne says. Instead, it focuses on specific care episodes, undermining empathy.

The root cause, according to Adrienne, is that many organizations’ executives and boards are focused on the impact that HCAHPS has on rankings and funding. “We're incentivizing smart organizations from a ranking, brand, and reimbursement perspective to measure in one way,” Adrienne explains.

The measurements used to gauge success in any industry can foster or undermine a culture of empathy in healthcare organizations and beyond. As Adrienne sees it, HCAHPS doesn’t address the many pieces that go into a patient’s experience because it focuses so narrowly on a subset of episodes.

Patient experience falls under a very, almost unusually broad spectrum. Unpleasant experiences such as late meals, scheduling difficulties, noisy hallways, and billing confusion can erode trust despite top-notch clinical care.

The solution, Adrienne believes, is better leveraging customer experience to capture the full spectrum of healthcare consumers’ experiences. 

“The imperative is to break that mold. We have to do it holistically,” Adrienne says. “Our customers, employees, and patients, certainly our communities have to have a loud voice in what we measure.”

In this episode, Adrienne discusses how healthcare organizations can authentically demonstrate and measure patients’ care perceptions.

In the following excerpt, Adrienne shares a personal story about the emotional toll empathy plays in delivering a difficult diagnosis.

Adrienne: Early in my career, I cared for a gentleman in the ER. I was an intern. The neurosurgery resident says, “Somebody's got to tell him it's a metastatic brain tumor, not a stroke.”

I went in and told him, and he had 10 people in the room. His wife was right next to him in a wheelchair.

As soon as I mustered the words, I burst into tears.

He turns to his wife and says, “I want to thank you for the last 40 years of my life. They were the best I ever had.” It was a heavy moment I did not recover from.

Right after walking out of that room, I wrote down his nickname and put it on my dresser. I have never forgotten him.

Ten years later, I saw a transporter with his nickname across her hat.

She said, “Dr. B? Remember that day?” She pointed to the hat. “We loved you. Thank you for taking care of my dad.”

It doesn't feel healing or restorative in the moment. It feels depleting. It's on the individual to manage their joy and well-being in the practice of medicine. You have to write that name down.


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