Blog | Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I feel your difficulty being empathetic.


During his speech this morning, Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, MD, was remarkably willing to admit his own flaws. He talked about the clinic's less than stellar levels of employee engagement and told one negative story on himself. When he spoke to a Harvard Business School class, one of the students asked him about his reputation for a lack of empathy. The question really made him think, he said, about how empathy is something of importance to patients that he hadn't focused on.

And then he launched into a slide show of all the recent improvements to patient experience made by the Cleveland Clinic--more windows, free wifi, greeters at the door, sofa beds for visiting family, hospital gowns designed by Diane Von Furstenburg. It struck me that those are all great patient-centered innovations, but they do nothing to make clinicians more empathetic to patients--the b-school student's actual concern.

Dr. Cosgrove's struggles with empathy reappeared during the Q&A. One questioner asked how small and midsize practices (where most of the MGMA attendees work) could provide high-quality coordinated care without the integration and resources of a big health system. Dr. Cosgrove responded by saying that he thinks the trend in health care is definitely away from small practices and toward big employed systems. In other words, you can't do it, so you'll be gone soon. Ouch.