Beebe Healthcare’s Compassion Recognition Program Empowers Many

Added on Nov 17, 2016

Beebe Healthcare’s Compassion Recognition Program Empowers Many
By Audrey Doyle
Industry Edge November 2016

At Beebe Healthcare, “compassionate” isn’t a buzzword, it’s a core value. “It describes our culture here—who we are and how we live and work,” said Jeannie Briley-Wallo, patient experience director of the Delaware-based health system.

To continue to nurture Beebe’s culture of compassion, Briley-Wallo and the facility’s patient experience team have developed a program designed to recognize and celebrate the many ways the hospital staff have already shared compassion with patients, their families and one another on a daily basis. The program, which the team described in a session at Press Ganey’s 2016 National Client Conference in Orlando

earlier this month, resulted in an increase in both employee morale and patient experience survey scores—with its most significant improvement in the Communication with Nurses measure, which went from a top-box score of 78% to 85%.

“We call it our Compassion Recognition program, and the goal is to get the staff to talk about how they’ve been compassionate in the past and to acknowledge them for it,” Briley-Wallo said.

“The stress and the competing priorities that come with working in a health care facility can sometimes cause hospital staff to forget all those little moments they have throughout their careers when they’ve shown compassion,” added Catherine Walls, patient experience coordinator. “This program reminds them how good their actions made patients and their families feel, which makes them feel good and reinforces the reason they went into health care in the first place."

Compassion in Action

The idea for the Compassion Recognition program was conceived in response to requests from staff members who had attended several patient experience conferences in 2013, including Press Ganey’s National Client Conference. Empathy training was a hot topic at the conferences, and in follow-up surveys, staff members indicated they wanted to explore the topic further.

Knowing that the ability to understand and acknowledge the anxiety, confusion and uncertainty patients and their families feel is integral to ensuring an optimal patient experience, the patient experience team determined that the program should be mandatory for the entire Beebe staff. However, they didn’t want to offend the health care providers on the staff by telling them they had to participate in training sessions that would “teach them empathy.”

“Most professional health care providers feel that empathy is something they were born with and show every day. They would feel insulted if they were told they had to take empathy training sessions, so we didn’t want to refer to this as empathy training,” said Briley-Wallo.

And although “compassion” and “empathy” have different meanings—compassion is an emotion we feel when others are in need that motivates us to help them, whereas empathy is the ability to understand or feel what people are experiencing— at Beebe the terms are used interchangeably. “To us, ‘compassion’ and ‘empathy’ are the ‘care’ in ‘health care.’ They’re about making a connection with people,” Briley-Wallo said. “So it made sense for us to take this approach of reminding the staff of the numerous ways they’ve already made connections with patients and families by being compassionate toward them, instead of telling the staff we were going to ‘teach’ them how to ‘be empathic.’”

The patient experience team developed the Compassion Recognition program in 2014 and began offering the sessions in the spring of 2015. Since all employees at Beebe are considered caregivers, sessions comprised members from all areas of the hospital, including physicians, nurses, housekeeping, lab and cafeteria. Each session was two hours long and was capped at 25 people. “We wanted people to share their emotions and thoughts about compassion, and we wanted to make sure they’d feel comfortable doing that. A small setting seemed to fit that bill,” said Jody Barbarulo, Beebe Healthcare’s patient advocate.

A total of 120 sessions were held over the course of eight months. Alternately facilitated by Briley-Wallo, Walls and Barbarulo, each highly interactive session began with an icebreaker in which participants shared a story about a person who had had a positive impact on their lives, either personally or professionally. This got them to start thinking about human connections and to recognize that each one of them impacts patients and their families through the things they do and say, even if they don’t directly provide care to patients.

After a brief discussion about definitions and practical examples of compassion, the group viewed a short video created by Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, in which she contrasts sympathy and empathy and imparts the message that “empathy fuels connection” and “empathy is feeling with people.”

The video provided a segue to the next part of the session, in which the group discussed ways to show compassion through active listening, eye contact and appropriate touch, among other methods. Participants also engaged in role-playing exercises that demonstrated the importance of each action.

At this point in the session, people started to realize they’d already shown compassion through the simple things they’d done without even thinking about it: whether it was holding a patient’s hand while they were undergoing a painful procedure, or offering to get a patient’s family member a cup of coffee or something to eat while they waited for their loved one to get out of surgery. “We’re really talking about what the staff already does,” said Barbarulo. “It’s a reminder that’s designed to recharge their batteries, so to speak.”

Next, the group viewed a variety of photographs and discussed the compassion (or lack thereof) shown in each. The facilitator then guided the group through a discussion about the following topics, collectively called “Caring Tips.”

  • Body language—Body language can be used to convey compassion in several ways, most notably by leaning toward rather than away from the patient or family member as they speak; offering a gentle touch on the shoulder or arm; listening attentively by periodically nodding; making eye contact; and not sitting with arms crossed, said Barbarulo.
  • Anxiety—Waiting to be seen, waiting for results, waiting for assistance, waiting for an update: Waiting can cause anxiety for patients and their families. Effective communication through periodic updates is a form of compassion that can alleviate patients’ fears and reassure family members, thereby reducing anxiety, according to Barbarulo.
  • Coordination of care—Highly coordinated, continuous care provided to patients by staff members who work well together as a team speaks volumes in terms of compassion. “Patients need to see that, in every part of our system, everyone knows what everyone else is doing and has the patients’ best interests at heart,” said Briley-Wallo. “That’s showing compassion.”
  • Autonomy—Allowing patients to make decisions about their experience while in the hospital, and about the care interventions they’re willing or not willing to receive, helps to preserve their dignity, Briley-Wallo said. “We talk about ways we can offer our patients choices whenever possible to help them maintain a sense of autonomy and give them back as much dignity as we can. We also discuss how we must, at all times, try to respect their privacy and preserve their dignity and how important that is.”

The participants also explored the subject of showing compassion toward co-workers and how being courteous and respectful toward one another has a positive impact on patients and families. Then they broke into smaller groups, and each group was given a different compassion-related story to read. After discussing their stories, the groups took turns reading them aloud. “We chose the stories to evoke emotion, which is something that people were pretty open to at this point in the session,” said Walls. The sessions ended with a viewing of Cleveland Clinic’s “Empathy” video.

More than 2,100 employees participated in the Compassion Recognition program in 2015, resulting in a 96% attendance rate. According to Briley-Wallo, one of the challenges she and her co-facilitators encountered concerned the emotional toll of conducting 120 sessions in just eight months. “At times, we would have a whole room of people crying, so the sessions could be extremely emotional and very draining,” she said.