worn shoes

A visit this week to Cleveland Clinic got me thinking about empathy – how putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes can transform our personal and professional relationships.

Walking through the Clinic’s skywalk, the giant glass windows on both sides allow visitors to see the world outside, but inside is where life is happening. Doctors, medical students, nurses, staff, patients and their families and people from many nations pass by. I couldn’t help but think that each one of them has a story and that I wish I could know each one.

What I soon came to realize was that empathy was at the core of patient care at Cleveland Clinic. Ranked #1 in cardiac care by US News and World Report, it’s the first major medical center in America to establish an Office of Patient Experience lead by a Chief Experience Officer, all to ensure consistent patient-centered care.You might say it’s expert in matters of the heart.

One of the first signs of this commitment was the sight of a staff member wearing a red blazer. The “Red Coats”, as they are called, direct visitors. But it was obvious they do so much more.

As we looked down at our color coded floor map, a Red Coat approached us. I noticed the name on her tag, but it was her kindness and bright smile that I remember. She did more than tell us where to turn to reach the elevator, she took us there – talking with us all the while.

James Vidmar, department supervisor of the Red Coats, said in a Cleveland Clinic video, “As people arrive, they’re either not well themselves or visiting someone who is not well. It’s a very big place and it’s easy to get confused.”

James gets to be part of their stories every day he’s on the job. One patient was leaving the hospital and told Jim, ‘I shouldn’t be here. I was given up for hope. I had this serious heart valve issue. They said I only have a week to live, but here I am going home with my six week old child.’ It makes me feel proud and fortunate to work for this enterprise.”

I witnessed this same attitude from every Cleveland Clinic staff member we encountered. The doctor took his time with us, making us feel that our son was his only patient. He ordered some tests while we were there and asked us to come back up to his office afterwards to discuss the results.

In a waiting area, the large glass windows afforded a birds eye view of the front entrance. The valet’s steps seemed choreographed as they moved between cars to greet each visitor and their smiles lingered after they parted ways. It was obvious they enjoyed their jobs and genuinely cared about the people they were serving.

This focus on the patent care is seen and heard everywhere. Peaceful music fills the space of the large hallways; beautiful artwork is displayed; MyChart, an interactive online health record makes it easy to access medical information; and patient gowns, designed especially for Cleveland Clinic by Diane von Furstenberg, give dignity to the patients.

Each year, Cleveland Clinic hosts the world’s largest independent summit exclusively focused on improving the patient experience. According to its website, the “2013 Patient Experience: Empathy + Innovation Summit” attracted more than 850 attendees from 34 states and 30 countries. The Clinic’s commitment to empathy has earned it a #3 ranking this year for Patient Centeredness by the University HealthSystems Consortium.

Whether in our personal or professional lives, empathy has the power to transform our relationships. It’s about being aware of what someone else is experiencing and connecting with them at the very moment we’re needed most.

Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes means stepping out of ours. It’s how Cleveland Clinic delivers world class patient care. It’s how we can improve our relationships too.

%d bloggers like this: