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Language to Show You Care

September 11, 2018
Healthcare is a complex field with many learned, technical skills needed to practice at the top of your game. For anyone from physicians to nurses, techs to administrative professionals, executing quickly and effectively in such a busy, ever-changing environment is mandatory.

Which is why taking it back to basics is just what the doctor ordered.

The nationally-recognized program Language of Caring™ might initially seem like an intuitive set of skills that don't need to be taught. But the essence of the program has a proven effect on improving patient safety as well as employee- and patient engagement.

"It truly helps employees actualize our mission, vision and values," Cate O'Connor-Devlin, Senior Director of Patient Experience at GBMC HealthCare, said. "It's not something new you have to learn. It's just another set of skills, tricks, another way of really, literally, demonstrating our caring."

The "jumpstart" to the program is in full swing – teaching all employees, no matter their role, the concept of heart-head-heart communication. The concept teaches employees to begin an interaction with a "heart" message – one of empathy and caring – followed by the "head," which would be the ask, explanation or instruction, and finally ending with another "heart" message. When communication is cased in this fashion, the speaker is viewed as more tuned in and caring, and the message is received much more receptively.

Other concepts include practice of presence and explaining positive intent.

Patient Experience Coordinator, Sierra Marty, said, "We know that we care about what the patient is saying, but sometimes it's hard for it to come across to them. Explaining positive intent is about the patient's perception of care, or the other person in the conversation's perception of you caring."

All pieces practiced over time become second nature, and the effect on patient and employee engagement is profound. The Patient Experience team has quantifiable metrics for where they would like to see scores improve at the end of the program's tenure. According to the proprietors of the Language of Caring™ program, there is evidence to demonstrate an increase in satisfaction scores, both from the patient side and the employee engagement side.

"It's a change in behavior. It's a change in culture," O'Connor-Devlin said. "And that's always difficult to do, which is why we're doing it slow."

The Patient Experience team will roll out a new module every 8 weeks, and the whole process will take almost three years. This is a slower pace than Language of Caring™ recommends, but it was important to GBMC that the staff are enrolled and engaged in the work.

"You have to practice it," O'Connor-Devlin said. "It's a learned skill. Even if you just start on your email, you will notice a difference. The responses are very different, and you get a better response.
If you practice it and you get that positive reaction, you will realize how effective it is and it should be become more natural for you."
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