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Love: A measurable, actionable solution to healthcare

December 12th, 2012

by Thomas Dahlborg

Recently, my family and I visited with my 94-year-old grandmother, Mémère. She had been discharged from the hospital after a fall and was home recuperating.

During our visit, we shared stories, told jokes, listened, observed, learned, laughed and engaged. We truly connected. And interestingly, not only did Mémère feel better during this time together but we all did too.

As we were leaving, I kept thinking about how well we all felt and also wondered what magic was in play and how it could be applied to the healthcare system. If we all felt this good, all had such great experiences and no adverse outcomes, we must be able to translate this to healthcare. And eventually it came to me. The secret to these wonderful outcomes was ... love.


I know you might be thinking ... "Love is too touchy-feely" or "not measurable" or "we cannot have love in business."

So I have decided to leverage the learnings from this visit with Mémère and translate it into specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and timely (aka S.M.A.R.T.) language.

Improve the healthcare system with L.O.V.E. - Listen/Observe/Visit/Engage

Listen - According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, "On average, physicians listen to patients' concerns for about 23 seconds before interrupting them." We must develop a model where the physician and patient have the time, connection and trust, and a safe place for the patient to tell their whole story and for the provider to truly listen and use the learnings from hearing the whole story to co-create with the patient a care plan that better positions the patient for optimal outcomes.

Observe - Providers must be positioned to be mindful, to be present and to observe, i.e., to observe the patient, the family and oneself (and to observe the interactions between all). With the additional wisdom garnered through mindfully observing, providers will be better positioned to connect authentically on a human level with their patient. They will be better positioned to leverage these additional garnered data points with purpose and discernment to arrive at optimal treatment decisions while ensuring the safety of their patients (see High Reliability Organizations).

Visit - From Gallup, keys to improving the patient visit and thus patient relations and satisfaction include:

  • Give patients an opportunity to talk and listen to what they have to say.
  • Treat patients as people, not as medical conditions.
  • Anticipate patient questions and provide answers before they ask.
  • Explain what you are going to do, what you are doing and why you did it.

Again, the healthcare visit must be redesigned to ensure ample time for optimal connection and communication between patient and provider. Much like a visit with a beloved grandparent.

Engage - Steve Wilkins, M.P.H., in his blog post "There is No App for Patient Engagement" said it brilliantly: "[P]roviders need to be engaging to patients in their demeanor, attitudes, and how they talk with and listen to patients. Doctors need to know who the patient is, what their fears, concerns and expectations are and what the patient is able and willing to do. Meaningful patient engagement, the kind that leads to long-term health behavior change, begins with patient-centered, interpersonal relationships between patients and their doctors."

Once more I have learned another important lesson from my Mémère, even while she is rehabbing after a fall. Thank you, Mémère.

LOVE is the key to improving the healthcare system. LOVE should be found at each and every encounter and each and every visit.

Now that would be real innovation.

Thomas H. Dahlborg, M.S.M., is Vice President for Strategy and Project Director for the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality (NICHQ), where he focuses on improving child health and well-being.


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