The Net Promoter System Podcast

Compassion in Healthcare: Feeling Cared For Can Be as Important as Being “Cured”

Dr. Jason Guardino shares how The Permanente Medical Group creates better health outcomes through empathy at scale.


Compassion in Healthcare: Feeling Cared For Can Be as Important as Being “Cured”

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A patient’s experience doesn’t begin when the doctor walks into the room. It’s the sum total of many small, interconnected moments: setting up an appointment, finding parking, checking in with the receptionist, sitting in the waiting room, and the nurse or doctor’s initial greeting. These moments, each of which may seem quite small, add up to create a lasting impression on patients who are in, perhaps, their most vulnerable state.

Dr. Jason Guardino, a practicing gastroenterologist at the Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center and the regional medical director of The Permanente Medical Group's exceptional care experience program, says patients usually can't assess the quality of medical care they are going to receive. They often find it challenging to assess the technical quality of care they’ve received. But they can certainly sense the caring, empathy, honesty, and connection they have with care providers. And sometimes, these characteristics of care matter at least as much as the “quality” of the diagnoses, procedures, medications, and postcare treatments they receive.

Each patient perceives quality a bit differently, he says. But for all patients, optimal patient experience stems from positive memories of encounters, discussions, and interactions.

Research shows that compassionate, empathetic care, according to Jason, creates better medical outcomes, too. For example, when a doctor leans in with compassion, studies show patients have better blood sugar and blood pressure control and are more likely to adhere to their prescription protocols.

“Our colleagues understand the importance of the experience,” he says, regarding his work at Kaiser Permanente with 90,000 colleagues across 21 hospitals. “They understand how experiences can lead to better health outcomes, and how they can actually help us practice better medicine and connect emotionally with not only our patients, but our colleagues and even our families,” Jason explains.

Jason says that employees at The Permanente Medical Group embrace five specific service values: safety, compassion, integrity, excellence, and efficiency.

These values come to life in his own work every day. One example: Right before they go under anesthesia for their procedure, Jason says to colonoscopy patients, “I’m going to take great care of you.”

“These are the last words I want people to hear before they fall asleep when I perform a procedure on them, because I want them to be at ease and at peace,” he says. “And you know why I say that? Because that's what I'd want to hear.”

While no amount of compassion will make up for poor access and poor outcomes, Jason says, it can make a huge difference in how patients react to their care, and whether they recommend their provider or care system to friends, colleagues, and family members.

“As healthcare leaders and clinicians, we have the opportunity to affect the perceptions of patients' experiences. Those perceptions are rooted in emotions. And if we can positively affect those perceptions, then patients will have a good attitude, leading to good behaviors and good decisions by those patients,” he explains. “There's no better person to tell us than the patient themselves about their experiences. That will be the next frontier of this movement going forward.”

In this episode, Jason and I discuss how healthcare organizations like Kaiser Permanente are helping physicians and care facilities create meaningful and valuable patient experiences that promote better care outcomes. And we explore why the secret to brand loyalty in healthcare and beyond is ensuring all employees choose to work in alignment with the values a brand stands for.

In the following excerpt, we discuss why every colleague from every level needs a seat at the table when helping create better patient (or customer) experiences.

Jason: Just because you hold the title of “physician” doesn’t mean you’re the smartest person in the room when it comes to creating great experiences. Oftentimes, our medical assistants, nurses, or custodians, for example, will have great ideas about creating experiences.

I want to get to a place where on hospital rounds, our team of physicians and nurses call over the custodian and say, “Do you have anything to add about Mrs. Jones’ care?” Because the custodian could be in that room three or four times a day. Whereas, the doctor once, maybe twice.

Rob: Interesting. This way you get more eyes and ears. Yes. I could imagine other organizations wanting to learn from what you're doing.

Jason: We know if we're going to create great experiences, then we have to speak the same language. That's the basis of it all. We also want people to understand we have a common purpose that we all live in, and that common purpose leads to leadership excellence, if you will.

So, the leaders say, “This is important.” And then I, as the leader, get the engagement of our physicians and staff, and they're the ones creating the experiences in front of the patients.  And when the patients have that experience, that's fantastic. That’s how you get brand loyalty.


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