Environment & Hospitality | Patient Advocacy

Human-Centered Communication from the H.E.A.R.T.®

Is it just me, or are people more on edge and prone to outburst since COVID? I have been asked this question several times over the last few weeks. I have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on when this change in behavior happened. I suppose it has been a gradual shift. Although, it feels like a jarring transition when viewed in conjunction with the pandemic, which has left us with feelings of isolation, burnout, and compassion fatigue. I am sure people were short-tempered and rude before COVID, but I am having a hard time accurately remembering how things were prior to March 16, 2020.

That date lives in infamy in our institution as the day our campus changed forever. This is the day we implemented visitor management. Even though our visitors are now returning, it is not the same. The words ‘new normal’ give me indigestion.

Pre-pandemic, we recognized the need to recommit ourselves to our values; however, the events since March 2020 have showed us a billboard-sized neon sign shouting our need for human connection, meaningful communication, and living out our values in how we treat our patients, families, and each other.

This led to our launch of the Communicate with H.E.A.R.T.® program. This program was developed at the Cleveland Clinic and brought to us by our partners at Press Ganey. This empathy-based communication training covers service excellence behaviors, service recovery, basic de-escalation, and phone etiquette, and is designed for ALL staff including providers, nurses, support staff, inpatient, outpatient, volunteers, students…EVERYONE! This material is backed by years of data demonstrating this program improves patient experience and staff engagement. It is an evidence-based program proven to create meaningful connections between healthcare staff, patients, and visitors.

For instance, early one morning I walked on to a patient care unit and witnessed a visitor in obvious distress speaking to two staff members. I stopped and asked if I could help. I utilized the Communicate with H.E.A.R.T.® tools, by HEARING the visitor’s concerns about his son (the patient) not getting pain meds overnight. One of the staff members was the provider, and she was upset because the patient had not received his meds. The other staff was the nurse who was trying to explain that the provider put in a strict NPO order. After actively listening to everyone’s input, I expressed EMPATHY for each involved and re-directed their attention to the patient and his needs in that moment. I APOLOGIZED to everyone for the miscommunication and took action by RESPONDING to the patient’s needs. Once the situation was back under control, I THANKED the visitor for bringing this to our attention, the nurse for taking action to fix the situation, and the provider for correcting the order and advocating for the patient.  

Using the Communicate with H.E.A.R.T.® tool, we were able to handle this high-stress situation calmly and quickly. We were able to put aside the blaming ‘he said she said’ by shifting our focus to what was truly important: the patient.

The desire for meaningful human connection and relationship is palpable. Therefore, even when faced with someone who is wearing their cranky pants, we can practice human-centered communication by actively listening with the intent to hear and not just respond, express empathy by being open and receptive to the verbal and non-verbal cues of others, and engage in intentional gratitude. Let’s refocus our communication on the person and away from the demonstrated behavior. Let’s work to find a way forward…together.

Author Bio:

 L. Hillary Basden RN, MSN has worked in direct patient care for more than 12 years with clinical experience in emergency medicine, medical/surgical nursing, and cardiology. Early in her nursing career, Basden began to recognize the signs of burnout and compassion fatigue within care teams and its impact in patient care delivery.She has led the development of hospital-based programmatic work at the University of Mississippi Medical Center including the launch of Healing Arts programs, Pet Therapy, Patient and Family Advisory Councils, service excellence training, as well as the growth of guest services staff and visitor management procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic.