How and Why Emotional Intelligence is Affecting Hospitals' Bottom Lines

During a June 5 webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review, experts from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Pittsburgh-based healthcare employee assessment firm Select International discussed the role of emotional intelligence in hospitals' patient-centered care delivery, satisfaction scores, clinical outcomes and finances.

Bryan Warren, manager of healthcare solutions at Select International, Ted Kinney, PhD, consulting manager, and director of research and development with Select International, and Michael Anderson, vice president of human resources within the Physician Services division of UPMC, presented the webinar.

Mr. Warren began by noting healthcare's need for a deeper appreciation of human behaviors, especially in terms of their effect on clinical outcomes and patient safety. For instance, wrong-site surgeries persist at a rate of nearly 3,000 incidents per year. Mr. Warren said there are cultural components to wrong-site surgeries, such as providers' resistance to checklists, that make the problem more complicated than it might seem. "There's a body of research showing emotional intelligence isn't just nice to have — it has a real effect on patient outcomes," he said.

What is emotional intelligence?
Dr. Kinney defined emotional intelligence, or EQ, as a person's capacity to recognize how his or her actions impact the cognitions and emotions of others. EQ also involves how well a person can read the intentions, feelings and motivations of others as he or she navigates social interactions. "This revolves around how effectively we connect to and relate to other people," said Dr. Kinney. Traits involved in EQ include self-awareness, social sensitivity, self-esteem, positive attitude, compassion and empathy.

The concept of EQ is not new in the psychology field. The term was coined in the early 1990s. Dr. Kinney said it wasn't until the last decade when experts began seriously assessing the outcomes of EQ. Until recently, experts didn't exactly understand how EQ empirically related to outcomes in healthcare.

The growing role of EQ in healthcare
Mr. Anderson explained how UPMC has integrated EQ into its strategy. "Behaviors and outcomes affect our bottom line and are increasingly visible at this point in time," he said. EQ is linked to a chain of events. If a hospital's providers have poor EQ, that can hurt their patient satisfaction and quality scores, which can then affect HCAHPS and reimbursement. From there, those reduced scores and metrics can affect a hospital's standing in widely publicized rankings, such as those from U.S. News & World Report, of which Mr. Anderson said UPMC is cognizant.

Mr. Anderson also noted the role EQ plays in a time when patients have an ample amount of choice for their healthcare. They may easily choose to receive care from a competitor, in a telemedicine e-visit with another hospital or from a retail health clinic, which Mr. Anderson said are "popping up everywhere." In light of these factors, Mr. Anderson said UPMC has fastened its focus on patient satisfaction and provider-patient interactions. For instance, UPMC opened a hospital about a year ago that is located roughly one mile from a major competitor, and Mr. Anderson said the new facility opened with a noticeable emphasis on hospitality.  

UPMC paid more attention to the need to understand the patient experience. What are patients feeling when they arrive at the hospital? Mr. Anderson said staff was reminded that patients come to the hospital often at their worst — when they are sick, confused, worried, embarrassed, frightened or stressed because they are missing work or school. "Emotional intelligence is our ability to understand all of these factors and take appropriate action to satisfy them."

Missed EQ opportunities  
Mr. Anderson said he still sees room for improvement in regard to EQ among physicians. Common complaints about physicians include the transactional nature of their interactions with patients. "[Physicians] feel they've delivered great patient care but haven't taken the time to listen or understand how an interaction left the patient feeling," says Mr. Anderson.

The webinar presenters also discussed a 2009 study of radiation oncologists' compassion in their relationships with patients. In that study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers recorded 398 conversations held between 51 oncologists and 270 patients with advanced cancer. The study identified whether oncologists responded to patients expressing fear, sadness or anger with continuers or terminators.

A continuer is a statement that offers empathy and allows the patient to continue expressing emotion. A terminator is a statement that discourages disclosure of emotion and redirects the conversation. Patients have less anxiety and depression, and report a greater satisfaction with and adherence to therapy, when their oncologists respond with continuer statements.

In that study, 37 percent of conversations between patients and providers contained at least one opportunity for the oncologist to demonstrate empathy. But when those moments occurred, oncologists responded with continuers only 22 percent of the time. "The other 80 percent completely missed the opportunity to show compassion," said Mr. Warren.

How should healthcare organizations fit EQ into hiring and talent management?
"As we move to greater emphasis on patient satisfaction, we see a need to emphasize relational constructs," said Dr. Kinney. "The healthcare industry is starting to focus on things that predict successful interactions with patients." Dr. Kinney said he's seen the most success among organizations that take the competencies of EQ and adopt them as a "whole-house solution" rather than by department or role.

Mr. Anderson also said that two to five years ago, the HR department at UPMC was largely concerned with technical and clinical skills that would determine an individual's job performance. "Now we're concerned about those skills and the other intangibles," he said, referring to self-awareness, social sensitivity, self-esteem, positive attitude, compassion and empathy.

Mr. Anderson said it's important for hospitals and health systems to emphasize EQ among their front office staff, as they routinely interact with patients. "Those are the individuals who are most important to find and train for EQ and make sure they're representing you well," said Mr. Anderson.

View or download the Webinar by clicking here (wmv). We suggest you download the video to your computer before viewing to ensure better quality. If you have problems viewing the video, which is in Windows Media Video format, you can use a program like VLC media player, free for download by clicking here

Download a copy of the presentation by clicking here (pdf).


More Articles on Emotional Intelligence in Healthcare:

Developing Healthcare Workers' Emotional Intelligence: Q&A With Emotional Intelligence Coach Harvey Deutschendorf
Developing a Workforce Strategy for Patient-Centered Care: 6 Key Steps
Healthcare Emotional Intelligence: Its Role in Patient Outcomes and Organizational Success


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