Has Your Medical Practice Lost Its Empathy? Here Is How To Regain It


Empathy, of course, is an important part of what we do. Right? I mean, how else could we restore health, help children reach their full potential and cure them if it is not with some sort of empathy?

In my last post, I talked about how empathy was part of our practice’s core values but that from time to time, we forget to have it.

We start out with it, but we either get comfortable, annoyed, caught up in the day-to-day that we tend to forget why we do what we do in the first. place.

So how do we regain the empathy we once had?

Joanna, my better half, wanted to re-ignite our empathy at our practice. But she didn’t just want to preach it. She wanted something more practical that would resonate with our team members.

She gave each of our 10 employees (including the 2 other providers), a question to answer. Here is small sample of some of the questions.

  • Think about how you would feel if your child’s teacher calls you in because she want to talk to you about YOUR child without knowing what it is about. Describe to us what would go through your mind in the hours leading up to the meeting.
  • Think about the time you were up all night. Now think about how you felt the morning after. Did you feel good, ready to take on the world? Where you in a peppy mood? Or were you a little more irritated than usual, moody and with less patiences? Share with us your feelings.
  • Think about the time when close family member was waiting for potentially unpleasant news, like results on a biopsy or a MRI. Describe to us your feelings, your mood, your thoughts or what came to mind during the time you were waiting to get the news. How did you feel? What made the wait worse?
  • Think about the a time you were in a restaurant, and you sat at your table for more than a reasonable amount of time without the server coming over to check on you, take your order, give you the daily specials or acknowledge your presence in any kind of way. What goes through your mind when something like that happens? 

Each person was asked to respond to their own question and to give us their thoughts. Joanna didn’t let them off the hook easy. She probed and asked follow up questions in an effort to unpack each person’s feelings. All staff members expressed words like scared, anxious, nervous, apprehensive, uneasy, tired, moody, bored, and impatience, among many, many other adjectives.

Once we went around the room, Joanna started to make the connection. She emphasized that parents that come to see us are in similar situations as the one she asked them to respond to and as a result, have the same feelings the employees described. She also explained that in places where we are not comfortable, we tend to become more anxious, moody, nervous and sometimes angry.

Add to that insomnia or poor sleeping habits, and it is easy to see why people act the way they do. The problem is that our work environment doesn’t give us those types of feelings, thus we have to remind ourselves that for parents, our office is one of those unfamiliar, not-know-what-to-expect kind of places.

More often than not, as people that work day in and day out in a medical environment, we forget that for the parents we serve, our practice is a place of uncertainty. It is a place where we can potentially give bad news.

This is place where even a well-visist, which is supposed to be a good thing, can be an anxiety filled experience. And for parents, the fear of the unknown can be disarming.

And yes, moms (and dads) may not be on their best behavior when they arrive for their am appointment, but we should perhaps give her the benefit of the doubt and remember she was probably up all night and not in the peppiest of moods.

By the way, I’m not suggesting that we excuse foul language, insults, disrespect or anything along those lines. That type of behavior us unacceptable regardless of a parent’s state of mind.

Over the years, people have defined the word empathy differently. According to a Wikipedia article, the definition ranges from caring for other people and having a desire to help them, to experiencing emotions that match another person’s emotions, to knowing what the other person is thinking or feeling, to blurring the line between self and others.

Regardless of which definition you identify with, I think we should stive to find ways not to lose it. Joanna’s exercise  is just one example. For us, it worked. The exercise brought us back on point. For you, however, it might be something else.

That’s fine. But find it and keep it. Because sooner or later, empathy is going to be so rare, that patients will think it is a super power.

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are regarding this. Do you think that this is a worthwhile effort for your practice? Do you agree with me or disagree. If you do disagree, tell me why.

Three Tips For The Care and Feeding of New Parents

Our guest blogger today is Deb Deaulieu. If you read practice management trade publications, you may recognize her name. Deb is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor who covers physician practice management topics for the Massachusetts Medical Society and FiercePracticeManagement.

I love to give Deb guest post spots for several reasons.  For starters, she has been writing about practice management issue for about 10 years. So she knows the reality of our circumstances.  And the other reason I like love to give her the microphone, so to speak, is because she is a mom of two young children (I believe they are 18-months apart). 

Deb fits right smack in the middle of our core demographic. Thus her perspective is invaluable. Not only does she know our business from a practice management perspective, but she is also parent of young children. 

Now, many of us are parents of young children too. But our perspective is different because we are on the inside. 

In this post, she gives us some really interesting tips that we can do in our practices to help new families have a better experience. Enjoy!

Like a lot of otherwise well-adjusted adults who pass through your office doors, I was quite the handful as a first-time parent.

Now that my son is almost six, I can’t imagine calling the pediatrician’s office more than a few times a year. But in the beginning, it was at least weekly—even though, other than a serious case of gas accompanied by a foul mood, I had a perfectly healthy baby.

Nonetheless, when my son was about six months old, we ended up finding a new doctor with whom we’ve been happy ever since. Maybe that original doctor-parent pairing was never meant to be, but there are several ways that relationship might have been saved, or at least ended sooner:

A more structured prenatal interview.

I did what the books instructed, and scheduled time to meet with pediatricians while I was still pregnant.

The trouble, though, was that having never dealt with an actual newborn infant of my own before, I had no idea what questions I should ask. Most of my mind was still focused on the pregnancy and impending delivery.

With absolutely no framework for addressing what would come next, it wasn’t helpful for me to guide the interviews, which ended up being woefully generic. One of the areas that first doctor and I were less than compatible, for example, was that of medication and pain relief.

Had the practice used some type of standard form or questionnaire for expecting parents to fill out, the discussion likely would have been far more productive and possibly identified mismatches in attitude or expectations.

A virtual support system.

In 2007, there weren’t many physician practices I knew of that had Facebook pages or blogs. What I had, which became a lifeline and a cinderblock tied to my leg, were online message boards teeming with other over-tired, paranoid new parents.

A physician-authored blog such as Survivor Pediatrics would have been invaluable. If you don’t host a blog or post extensive parenting resources on your website, steer parents to trusted resources, such as healthychildren.org, that do.

If you host a Facebook page, you can keep the positives of message-board sharing intact by encouraging parents to post their own tips, provided you have the ability to moderate for nonsense or potentially harmful information (and reach out to parents who may need to adjust their remedies).

For instance, I discovered by accident that running the vacuum cleaner, or even a faucet if I was away from home, would calm my colicky baby almost instantly. Every day I could have gotten that information sooner may have very well added another to the end of my life.

A hub for community resources.

A lot of what I really needed during that stressful period truthfully wasn’t something the doctor’s office could provide at all.

I needed other moms to talk to, face-to-face, who were not relatives (family support is great, but as a source of advice can create a whole other kind of stress); public places I could take my child where screaming meltdowns, oceans of “spit-up,” and diaper blowouts were A-okay; someone to clean my house; a nap.

If you don’t do so already, create a bulletin board in your office posting details for children’s programs at local libraries; mothers’ groups; child-care resources; and relevant community activities.

Consider dedicating one corner of the board to any of these items that are also free or discounted to your patients—since budget is big driver keeping new moms isolated in their homes.

Again, you’ll have to exercise some oversight to make sure your board doesn’t become too advertorial; but a little time curating this information for your patients could alleviate a lot of the time you and your staff spend hand-holding new parents.

Finally, remember to cut new parents some slack, or at least not sigh audibly when the question list they pull out of their purse resembles a never-ending scarf cascading out of a magician’s sleeve. In six months to eighteen years, we’ll all return to our normally calm, rational selves.

Learn more about Deb’s work by visiting FiercePracticeManagement. You can also follow her via her new Facebook page.

It Is Hard to Argue With 50 Years of Professional Experience

After getting our food, my wife and I couldn’t find a place to sit. The place was packed. We each scanned the room trying to find two seats together.

Over to the side, there was a gentlemen sitting alone at a table. There were three more empty seats surrounding the table, so my wife asked if we could share the table. The gentlemen graciously said yes. Shortly after, his wife joined us.

We exchanged pleasantries and started chatting with the couple. We found out that both were from Greece. The gentlemen’s wife had just returned from Greece a few days ago. She explained she was making arrangement for her elderly mother who was back in Greece.

The older couple appeared to be open to conversation so I asked, “When did you come to the States?”

“I came to the States in 1954.” Said the gentlemen. “I was a cardiologist but decided on general peds.” He shared he had been a hospital employee for 10 years at the beginning of his career. “Never do that!” He exclaimed as he raised both hands as if cautioning us. “How long have you been in private-practice?” I asked. “Forty years,” he replied.

Whew, 40-years in private practice. I compared it to our meager  8-years. Surely this guy has the recipe for success I quickly concluded.

“You’ve been around for a very long time, obviously… you’ve seen a lot of changes in the medical field, what would you attribute your success to? You have to be doing something right.” I unabashedly asked.

“Well,” he said in his thick Greek accent, “I think you have to hire the right people. Especially the front desk” he added.

He explained that his colleagues in the area where he works never did a good job of hiring the right front desk people. The front desk staff didn’t complement the practice. The care from the physician was good, but the staff didn’t connect well with parents.

As a result, parents stop coming. The 50 year veteran of pediatrics went on to say that he believed parents needed to identify with the staff at some level. Even going as far as matching cultures.

“The second thing I’d say is keep expenses to a minimum.” He mentioned that he has colleagues that didn’t watch their practice expenses very well. The result? Well, we don’t have to think too hard about what happened to them. “One year, my friend lost $25,000. The next year, he lost $45,000. After that, he was done.” He explained.

I couldn’t believe his advice. I thought to myself, that’s it?

We ended up sitting with the gentlemen and his wife for about an hour. They were a delightful, animated and very sharp couple. Especially the gentlemen’s wife. She seemed to be as sharp as a thumb tack. Not putting him down, but I was impressed with her.

They gave us a lot more advice than we bargained for. We talked about life, kids, work and family among other things. We even discussed Obamacare.

And boy did we laugh.

I don’t think my wife an I have ever laughed so much with our regular friends. Not only was this couple cute and sharp, they were funny.Their stories were wonderful. I wish I would have had a camera to document the event.

I couldn’t shake the simplicity of their advice. That wonderful meeting made me realize that we often get caught up in our own complexity. And to undue our complexity, we seem to throw in more complexity with the hopes that the compounded intricate solutions will untangle the complicated process.When in fact the goal in the first place should have been the opposite.

Simplicity seems plain. In fact,  for a second, I almost dismissed his advice. “Nah, can’t be that simple.” I thought.

But soon it hit me.  It is hard to argue with 50 years of professional experience.


How Social Media Can Transform Your Medical Practice

Written by Natasha Burgert MD

Last summer, I joined millions of others in the deluge of social media. I committed one year of effort to see if social would enhance or distract from my pediatric practice.

That was my goal, just one year.

At that time, I wanted to dip my foot in the pool, and see if it made any ripples. The unexpected consequence was how much social media has changed my medical practice, and me. Ripples have returned as tidal waves.

My practice has seen tangible, real valuable benefits. I have been intellectually challenged, and have professionally grown.

For my practice:

  • Increasing new patient traffic is creating revenue for our group.I average 1 new patient family per week who came because of our social media presence. I know this because they tell me, “I am here to see you today because I found you on Facebook,” or “I found your blog.”
  • 52 patients a year x $2700 (average pediatric care for 0-24 mon.) = $140,000 of average billable income over two years.
  • Creating information has added to my “search-ability” in search engines. All my work is available publicly and with fully disclosed authorship, so new patients can find me with ease.
  • Investing time in relevant and complete posts actually saves me time in the long run. Questions I am repeatedly asked, like “How do I start solid foods?“, can be answered quickly and completely by directing them to my site. This saves face-to-face clinic time for more specific concerns for their child.
  • I have created opportunities to make my families lives easier by using the tech at their fingertips.
  • Selectively following leaders in the field of pediatrics has allowed me to refresh and update my knowledge daily. The lead article in medical journals, the newest recall, the updated reports are in my information stream. Sharing the headlines and reports that will most assist my patients continues the information stream in real time.
  • I can get help for my patients across the country through online professional connections, and I have experts at my fingertips who can help me answer questions.

For me:

  • Being part of the health social media and blogging community has given me a connection and an outlet. I can express myself as a physician and a mom, creating a “professional diary” of my life.
  • I have met amazing people with big ideas and bigger hearts, who inspire and challenge me daily.
  • I have seen a glimpse of how big an effect a group of vocal health writers can have; how active advocates can act to correct falsehoods and incorrect reporting. I am a part of a movement; a way that healthcare is changing.
  • I unexpectedly found how one purpose could be defined, in such a short amount of time.

For my patient families:

  • I can actively communicate, acknowledge, and positively influence the choices that my families make for their children between the checkups. My anticipatory guidance can be repeated, reinforced, and repeated again.
  • New websites, blogs, and apps are constantly being added to our fingertips. After review, I can refer my patients to some really cool, applicable tech options to better care for their kids. I would never know about this stuff if I was not involved with social.
  • I can act as a “filter” to promote the good and refute the bad.
  • I can be a source of reliable, real information.

But what is all of this really about?

  • It’s about the mom who comes to me at the 18-month check up and tells me her child’s car seat is still rear-facing.
  • It’s about the dad who tells me he went to the health department and got a TDaP before his new son was born.
  • It’s about the complete stranger who sees me in my office building and says, “Are you Dr. Natasha? Thanks for writing about kids and fever. I had some questions and it came at just the right time.”

The beauty of social is that I never talked with these parents about these health and safety issues. Parents made good decisions for their families after getting the information. Period. That’s all they needed, and that’s all it took.


Offering online authenticity, genuine concern, and experience (sprinkled with a bit of sound medical knowledge) has created an amazingly powerful platform, and helpful practice tool.

Although using social media does has some undefined, grey areas to navigate; for me one thing is clear, my goal of one year has been extended until further notice.

Natasha Burgert is a pediatrician who blogs at KC Kids Doc. She also is a contributor to the Survivor Pediatrics Blog