Three Ideas to Re-Humanize Patient Experience

I was recently interviewed for an article that discusses a post where Fox News journalist John Stossel describes his experience as a lung cancer patient at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

First of all, I hope that Stossel’s treatment is successful. And although I don’t fully agree with his analysis of the industry, I do agree with his observation “…I have to say, the hospital’s customer service stinks.” Yes, there is a problem with patient experience.

I’m reminded of this picture from a post that I wrote in 2009, which comes from Cleveland Clinic’s 2008 Annual Report.


With all of the focus on costs and liabilities, the medical system has forgotten about the soul of the patient. It’s become dehumanized.

The wellbeing of a patient often takes a back seat to rigid processes and procedures, and there’s little understanding of how to help patients make increasingly important financial/medical trade-offs. It’s not that doctors, nurses, and hospital staffs don’t care. It’s just that the entire system has conspired to de-emphasize humanity.

This problem is not unique to healthcare. In research that we did in 2013, we found that only 30% of employees have what Aristotle called “practical wisdom,” the combination of moral will and moral skill. This is the capability that Barry Schwartz explains is critical for infusing humanity within organizations.

While there are many structural issues in U.S. healthcare (which I won’t go into here), there are still many things that can be done to re-humanize the patient experience. Here are some ideas:

  • Apply better experience design. Health care leaders should learn and apply the the principles of People-Centric Experience Design: align with purpose, guide with empathy, and design for memories.
  • Develop a value mindset. As patients take on more of the direct financial burden for healthcare, doctors must do more than recommend treatments and procedures. They must help patients understand the value of those activities, so that they can make smart financial/medical trade-offs.
  • Build decision-support technology. Patients should be able to understand the efficacy and full costs of the treatments and procedures that they are being asked to “purchase.” Health plans need to take the lead in providing tools for making this information transparent, and empowering patients to make better decisions.

The bottom line: It’s time to re-humanize healthcare


About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

8 Responses to Three Ideas to Re-Humanize Patient Experience

  1. Carolyn says:

    Hi Bruce this is very topical at the moment as I am investigating the right metric to measure the customer experience with health care in Australia. I am an advocate and associate of NPS however, not sure that this is the right metric based on the NHS system in UK and also the responses of clients when asked the recommend question. Your thoughts?

  2. Bruce,

    Thank you for this reminder that our patients each have a soul and each and every single one is special and should be treated as such. I think we see so many different people every day that they all just kind of blend together.

    I appreciate the reminder.


  3. Debbra Lutze says:

    I agree whole heartedly, it’s not always the the people, although ego does make a mess sometimes. I could give you some vast examples from my own experiences with healthcare and treatments from multiple institutions. I have a rare cancer type and my struggle has been with dealing with the unknown, unspeakable and the unwilling which almost killed me more than once. At one point in a journey like this you stop being afraid of the disease and dread the treatment and results.

    • Debra: Thanks for sharing. I hope that you are increasingly surrounded by medical providers (and others) who help you flourish as a person, and help you fight the disease with a positive attitude–not just with treatments.

  4. kathrynmuller says:

    Awesome article. It’s so great to see people talking about this and urging providers to infuse humanity back into healthcare. As an Occupational Therapist my patients will all to often burst into tears and say it’s because I am being nice to them and taking time to explain things. This basic kindness should be standard care not extraordinary. Well done on this piece!

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