One of my favorite phrases is making room for empathy. Room for empathy is about giving staff the time in their workflows to be compassionate and to deliver care which is not only clinically competent but emotionally uplifting as well. But that’s hard to do.

It’s hard because the work of providing care is increasingly complex. We’ve got EMRs with screens of data. We’ve got sign off sheets, time outs, forms, papers, phone calls, results, and, frankly, CYA work. Those things take time. So what get’s cut? Empathy. We cut out the simple things like walking someone to their destination rather than pointing. We cut out sitting with someone who looks concerned (so we look at our shoes or iPhones in the hallway). It’s a problem

There are two main ways to make more room for empathy. First, we could hire more staff. More staff (nurses, care givers, techs, managers, administrators even) mean more bandwidth. Many hands make light work. But we probably aren’t going to get more staff. Reimbursement is dropping, and there is a push to be more efficient. Hospitals are trying to see if they could survive on Medicare reimbursement rates. (Remember, Medicare pays, on average, about 80% of what treatment costs, so we have to cut about 20% of cost out of hospitals).

The other way we can make room is by eliminating work which does not add value. Productivity gurus say we should work smarter, not harder. I’m increasingly interested in the Lean methodology as a framework for evaluating how we do our work and determining if it adds value, or simply takes up valuable time. So, I’ve been trying to learn more about Lean.

I found Mark Graban’s Lean Blog which led me to his Lean Blog Podcast, a regular, downloadable audio show about Lean. In the most recent episode, Dr. John Toussaint of ThedaCare, discusses the importance Lean methodologies in healthcare.

It’s a fantastic listen and should inspire anyone looking for ways to make room for empathy and return the focus to patient and staff experience.