5 Ongoing Challenges of Patient Experience

by Jeannie Walters

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Thoughts from the Cleveland Clinic Patient Empathy Summit (Part 2)

In case you missed it, you may be interested in reading Part 1: The Intentionality of Patient Empathy.

Considering the patient experience as an overall idea is relatively new in the long span of medicine’s history. It’s still not exactly common.

Pioneers and innovators like the Cleveland Clinic now have leaders with titles like Chief Patient Experience Officer and Patient Experience teams to address the need to focus on not only the quality of healthcare provided, but the quality of the experience surrounding all parts of that journey.

Several days of discussions, presentations and honest dialogue around these issues from providers, patients, and those who have been both, led to raw feedback about the work still needed in the area of patient experience.

Here are a few observations I made about the biggest challenges of patient experience today.

1. Medicine is a science, but also a mysterious one.

There are simply things we can’t explain or know. We are each human and we are limited in what knowledge we have. Understanding why stress levels can affect medical outcomes is something we’ve come to accept, but not necessarily always understand. Medicine relies on science, but still is full of mystery.

Animated tree art.

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2. Emotional well-being is relative.

Lots of us walk around saying “I’m fine” when we aren’t. How do we know what to ask for to maintain an emotionally healthy life? Sometimes we, and our doctors and caregivers, simply don’t know the questions to ask. It’s up to us to start recognizing how critical this is to our overall health and wellbeing.

3. Patient Experience is an Often Unexpected Journey.

Whether it’s a life-changing diagnosis or a sudden trauma, we become patients because we have something wrong. Understanding how patients enter the journey is not enough. Understanding what’s happening THAT day for THAT person is quite a tall order. Toss in the way our healthcare systems don’t all talk together, and a lot of the responsibility is on the patient to organize and communicate with various providers.

4. Humans Don’t Have Endless Empathy.

After a while, our empathy reserves get tapped. With long working shifts and patients who might be in pain or grumpy lashing out, nurses, doctors and others simply don’t have enough empathy to go around. It’s a practice, like yoga or meditation, to focus on empathy in these different scenarios. As one conference attendee said to me,

“We’re working against two generations of medical education that ignored the idea of empathy.”

’m not sure if that’s totally true, and I believe there are great strides happening in education, but I think she had a point.

5. Transparency is Powerful, But Scary.

As I mentioned in part one, transparency is a powerful tool. But doctors and others have a right to be nervous about Yelp reviews and comment sections on live web sites.

Healthcare is emotionally charged. What if a patient gets a bad diagnosis and calls the doc a quack? What if the patient simply disagrees with the treatment approach? There are lots of reasons to be nervous, but overall transparency of this kind can help patients find the right experience for them, and vice versa.

If I want a physician who chats a lot, I might find those reviews of patients explaining detailed conversations compelling. If I want precision and timeliness, a review of “no waiting” might work for me.

We have to accept that healthcare is more of a partnership than it’s ever been, so transparency can help us find the right partners for our journey.

[Tweet “Healthcare is more of a partnership than it’s ever been.”]

Overall, I was so inspired with the Cleveland Clinic, the conference, and most of all the people looking to make healthcare better for us. I hope they continue to pull back the curtain on patient experience and address those issues which are challenging.

I’d love to see more discussion about healthcare journeys that aren’t all part of one facility or event. I’m extremely interested in how to address empathy fatigue for caregivers. And I’m anxious to hear more about how patients can take more control while partnering with their care providers.

Here’s to the heroes who everyday are making a difference in their patients’ lives. And here’s to the patients and others who are making noise so others will have a better journey.


Don’t forget to read Part 1: The Intentionality of Patient Empathy.

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, a Forbes Coaches Council Member, a C-Suite Network Advisor, a LinkedIn Learning and Lynda.com instructor, and a TEDx speaker. Learn more here.

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