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Empathy and Communication for Better Patient Experiences – Healthcare Experience Matters Podcast

August 12, 2021

Kathleen Lynam, an Executive Coach and Senior Advisor with the Healthcare Experience Foundation (HXF) and PRC Excellence Accelerator® Coach joins our HXF partners’ podcast to discuss empathy, communication, mindfulness, and many other important topics impacting the patient experience.

Before joining HXF, Kathleen Lynam served for 18 years as a registered nurse with The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J. Her journey took her from a position of staff nurse to Vice President of Acute and Ambulatory Services. It was during this time caring for patients when she found her love for coaching others to achieve amazing outcomes for patients.

As we learn on today’s podcast: empathy, communication and mindfulness are key when it comes to helping patients, colleagues, and ourselves. Below are some highlights of this moving discussion with Kathleen.

Defining Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Often it is the tipping point for the patient experience.

We know from experience that a driving force for a positive patient experience is when a patient feels heard. To demonstrate that, we must show with words or actions, we understand what a patient or family member is feeling and then somehow communicate that we understand.

This could be something like a comforting touch of a hand, shoulder, or flashing an encouraging smile.

Building Trust

If empathy is the foundation of a good patient experience, the next important step, like in any relationship, is building trust.

Trust can never be assumed, especially now more than ever in healthcare. All of us must work hard at building the confidence of patients and their loved ones. Trust is certainly the cornerstone for a healthy patient-caregiver experience.

When someone trusts another, the defense mechanism in our brain relaxes.

“When there is fear we cannot hear,” Kathleen said.

We need to take the time to build trust, understand the health literacy of our patients, and practice good teach-back. We must teach not only what we are doing, but we must also explain why we are doing something.

If our patient trusts us, they will hopefully feel safe enough to say, “Could you say that again or I don’t understand.”

Empathy Starts Early

We know from years of research that babies as young as six months old demonstrate empathy. We see this when one baby is crying, and other babies will make efforts to comfort the crying baby.

We know that empathy is within each of us. The problem is we may have forgotten that it is within us. We are all capable of demonstrating empathy, kindness and warmth to others.


Mindfulness begins with learning how to be present. It sounds simple, but it takes an effort to remove distractions. We must choose to be focused on our body language and words while listening to all of what is said and not said. It’s important to reflect what we have heard or seen back to our patients in a caring manner.

Empathy entails identifying what others are feeling and acknowledging that. It’s important to find ways to connect with the person not as a patient, or a diagnosis, but as a fellow human being.

Like any muscle you want to strengthen, we build empathy by practicing it.

“If we want to exceed a patient’s expectations, we need to understand where they are so that we can provide them with the best quality, the best safety, and the best outcomes,” Kathleen said.

Learn More

Make sure to listen to today’s podcast to learn more about empathy. Ready to learn even more about empathy? The Healthcare Experience Academy has an empathy course that is now available.