How to Deliver Compassionate and Competitive Healthcare [Interview][Transcript]

Dr_Thomas_Lee_Compassionate_Competitive_HealthcareGuest: Dr. Thomas Lee
Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest Bio: Dr. Thomas Lee joined Press Ganey as Chief Medical Officer in 2013, bringing more than three decades of experience in health care performance improvement as a practicing physician, a leader in provider organizations, researcher and health policy expert. As CMO, Tom is responsible for developing clinical and operational strategies to help providers across the nation measure and improve the patient experience, with an overarching goal of reducing the suffering of patients as they undergo care, and improving the value of that care. In addition to his role with Press Ganey, Tom, an internist and cardiologist, continues to practice primary care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Segment overview: Dr. Thomas Lee, Chief Medical Officer of Press-Ganey, a company that surveys hospital patients, discusses his very recent book, AN EPIDEMIC OF EMPATHY IN HEALTHCARE: How to Deliver Compassionate, Connected Patient Care That Creates a Competitive Advantage (McGraw-Hill; November, 2015), and the imperative to create environments where patients are tended to and are priority one for doctors, nurses, and clinicians.


Health Professional Radio – Compassionate Competitive Healthcare

Neal Howard: Hello welcome to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard. We’re in studio today taking with Dr. Thomas Lee, Chief Medical Officer of Press Ganey. He’s also an author, recently published “An Epidemic of Empathy in Healthcare: How to Deliver Compassionate, Connected Patient Care That Creates a Competitive Advantage” published by McGraw-Hill. Welcome to the Health Professional Radio today Dr. Lee.

Dr. Thomas Lee: Thanks for having me.

N: Okay. Now you’ve been working to improve the patient experience not so much as it relates to the actual hands-on care and the prescription meds or the treatment or the therapy. How important is that today as opposed to before?

L: I think my colleagues, there is so much we can do now than we could do 20, 50 years ago. We focused on “what can we do.” And that’s very often the question that physicians like me are asking, like “Is there anything I can do?” A lot of times that really isn’t the big question and Neal, I think when you ask patients what really matters to them when they’re old and when their frail and when their dying is really other issues. Like how many days are they gonna spend at home in the last month of their life, issues like that are more important than have we got the potassium in line or the…above 27.

N: When you’re in medical school, I interview quite a few healthcare professionals and they all say “We don’t get a whole lot of training in nutrition.” Isn’t it the same when it comes to I guess caring about some of these things that family members or social workers or hospice care should be caring about? I mean you’re the physician, you’re there to heal them, to get them as comfortable as possible as best as you can or is that something that needs to change?

L: I think part of it is education but I think part of it is just people in healthcare their attitude toward the work. Empathy is work, it’s emotional labor, it’s mustering the energy to look right at someone, look in the eyes and think what is important to this person, what’s really going on with them. In that case, energy and the case especially great energy in an era where your Apple watch is vibrating and you can hear clicks from text messages and emails coming in and you know there are four people waiting for you. Mustering the energy to focus on people, giving people attention that’s really a precious thing these days and we need to create an environment where people feel they’d better focus and help them focus.

N: Creating an environment, are you talking about legislating an environment or collectively as an industry creating this environment?

L: I don’t think legislation can create the environment, that we need in healthcare and I also don’t think financial incentives can do it either. I think these are intrinsic motivations, but we need an environment where our intrinsic motivations come to the surface reliably – not just when we feel like it but for every patient. And that’s why I’m a big believer in transparency, I like what the University of Utah and a lot of medical centers are now doing which is they’re putting all of their patient experience comments up online as well as the data. The comments in particular, good, bad, and ugly and what that it does is it makes every physician remember that it’s a high stakes intereaction when they’re talking to a patient. They’re actually like 10 times there’s likely to write a positive comment, there’s a negative comment but there is an accountability that there might not be otherwise with every single patient.

N: Now you’re the author of An Epidemic of Empathy in Healthcare, How to Deliver Compassionate Connective Patient Care that Causes a Competitive Advantage. As the author of that book, tell us how does someone considering going into healthcare as a physician or maybe in some other aspect, how do you find that inner empath and makes and determine this is the right path for you? Because if you’re going into a profession because of the money, how do you reconcile empathy when you’re really in it for something else? And how do you identify that when you’re in school?

L: Well I think one of the great things about healthcare is that almost everyone goes into it because they want something more than money. They go on it because they want their life to be about something that makes them proud, they want to help people, they want to feel good about themselves. I think that’s always been true with medicine, and I think is still true and it will always be true. You hear a lot of disgruntled health professionals, physicians in particular saying they wouldn’t go into it today. But then when they talk about what their kids are going into, one of their kids go to med school they’re incredibly proud because in their hearts they know that there is nothing better. And so I don’t think you should go into healthcare while you care about money. But then how do we create an environment where physicians and other healthcare professionals can feel proud reliably about what they’re doing? That’s part of the challenge, is to create an environment where they can be at their best and then be appreciated for being at their best.

N: We spoke a moment ago about the impossibility of legislating this environment that you speak of. Okay let’s say that every physician goes into it as you say to make something better, to mean something, to make a difference and not necessarily for the money. Although it’s nice to have beagles or whatever when you want them. Would you say that certain changes or certain existing practices, procedures and laws tie healthcare professionals’ hands when it comes to getting time to be empathetic out of thin air when you have to be on the computer or you’re spending 5, 10 mins with the patient max and you’ve got 30 or 40 or 50 or more to see that day.

L: Well we have a lot to figure out in healthcare. And certainly before I got on this call I was using my electronic medical record playing catch up with all the things going on. The problem isn’t the electronic medical record, the problem is that there is just so much stuff going on. What the electronic records do is that it brings you face to face with all that’s going on and it’s overwhelming. I don’t think that the solution is going back to the old days where we simply did less in medicine. I think the solution is organizing better. And my own feeling is that real teams to multidisciplinary teams that are working really well together to take care of groups of patient for similar needs, I think that is a solution to the chaos of medicine for patient. And I actually think that solution to the burnout a lot of clinicians are feeling, you know I’ve been, they feel proud when their working in teams, they’re doing excellent care. So I actually think teamwork is the solution for the future, not getting rid of electronic medical record or something like that.

N: Now as we wrap up doctor, what type of reception have you gotten from your fellow healthcare practitioners, from your book An Epidemic of Empathy in Healthcare, what type of reception are you getting?

L: Well you know of course Neal I maybe bias cause like no one is going to say really negative things right to my face, at least I haven’t so far. I’ve been hearing a lot of positive things in fact which is that it you know we’re talking in this book about things that resonated with healthcare professionals, novelist values the way they want to see themselves. And the question about how do we create a business contacts in which you know clinicians can be the kind of person they want to be and the patients are hoping that they’re going to be, they find that very useful, interesting and important.

N: Great, great. You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard. We’ve been in studio this afternoon with Dr. Thomas Lee, Chief Medical Officer of Press Ganey, a company that surveys hospital patient. And we’ve been here discussing his recent book “An Epidemic of Empathy in Healthcare,” and also discussing an environment we’re physicians focus their time, attention and empathy on patients rather than having to focus so much on the rules and regulation of the practice or of the industry as a whole. It’s been great having you here with us today Dr. Lee

L: My pleasure.

N: Thank you. Transcripts and audio of this program are available at and also at and you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.

Liked it? Take a second to support healthprofessionalradio on Patreon!