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Discovering Empathy

Empathy – Can We Afford to be Without It?

Delos Cosgrove
CEO and President at Cleveland Clinic

Healthcare providers need to cut costs, collect data and invest in their communities. But emotions are not a commodity and a hospital is not another business. People come to us at the most vulnerable times of their lives. They look to us for compassion. They trust us with their most precious assets – their health and the health of their parents, spouses and children. How could we ever be less than empathetic to anyone who comes through our doors?

Hospitals are busy places. Caregivers see thousands of patients every year. There is a danger of forgetting that each patient is an individual, with a unique story and particular fears. We need to keep that from happening. We need to exercise empathy the way we exercise our bodies. We need to study emotional intelligence the way we study for recertification. We need to listen to that patient who is sitting across from us in the examination room and connect with her or him as if we were the only two people in the world.

“What if you could stand in someone else’s shoes … Hear what they hear. See what they see. Feel what they feel. Would you treat them differently?” Our marketing communications team at Cleveland Clinic recently made a video that asked this very question. It shows patients, visitors and caregivers in a variety of hospital settings, illustrating what you could never have guessed about each patient simply by looking at them.

One patient has been dreading his appointment, fearing he’d waited too long. Another is in her 26th day of waiting for a new heart. A mother and father sit in the cafeteria, worried about their 19-year-old son on life support. A man going up the escalator has just learned that his tumor is benign; the man behind him has just learned that his tumor is not. 

Not all hospitals and medical centers can afford the most modern facilities or advanced technology. However, we can all afford to listen to our patients, hear their stories, and empathize with their hopes and fears.