Empathy is the capacity to step into other people’s shoes, to understand their lives, and start to solve problems from their perspectives. Human centred design is premised on empathy, on the idea that the people you’re designing for are your roadmap to innovative solutions. All you have to do is empathise, understand them, and bring them along with you in the design process.

As Marketing Week’s 100 Disruptive Brands 2017 list shows, health is a fertile ground for innovation. Sensing the need among consumers to break down the barriers in healthcare and make the experience patient-centric, a new set of disruptors has emerged with a mission to help people take control of their health.

If our health disruptors can see the need to be more empathetic and use patient journey maps to identify the real opportunities, what are our traditional health carers using to drive a more patient centric model.  Empathy training is becoming a requirement across all providers within the health care system as conflicting priorities put more pressure on our doctors, nurses, clinicians and carer network.

So when challenged with conflicting work priorities, exhaustion, disenchantment how do we get in touch with our empathetic selves?

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I was fortunate enough to have a discussion with Kim Moyes who has not only been an Adult and Paediatric Emergency Nursing Director, Safety and Quality Lead and Clinical Governance Director but a  Patient Experience extraordinaire, at the largest Hospital and Health Service in Australia. We had a very robust discussion about empathy and the ability to relearn empathy, the important of ongoing empathy training with all medical staff.

Carolyn: Kim, tell me some of the challenges you have faced with addressing the issue of Empathy in hospitals?


Kim: It’s interesting, I never would have thought when I was studying to be a Registered Nurse over 20 years ago, that Empathy would have to be ‘addressed’, taught or low and behold, be the focus of targeted training for clinicians – but here we are in 2017 struggling to reach the clinical workforce about the importance of being ‘CONNECTED’.   Culture and social norms have shifted, so we find ourselves in a place where consumer centred care and connected experiences are dominated by ‘transactional healthcare’ dogma.


Carolyn: Do you believe we are wasting our time trying to re learn empathy?


Kim: No, not at all. I believe that by allowing clinicians, team leaders, health managers and executive the time and space to reconnect with their patients (customers) it gives them the opportunity to reconnect with their ‘purpose’. In Leadership It is all too easy to get distracted in the day to day and to think that the solutions to customer experience are too complex, or too expensive or too much work. When in reality, once you have “stepped into the patient’s shoes” you can start to create solutions which are often simple, quick to initiate, and within their delegation of authority – and usually free. As a team it’s even better when people including the patients, really get involved in creating solutions.  It’s such a rewarding process for everyone involved.

The idea of ‘purpose’ was introduced to me by Dr Dana Born (PH.D) of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Centre for Public Leadership when I attended a masterclass she was running earlier this year. She challenged everyone in the class to reflect on ‘why we do what we do?” What was it that drew us to our current career?” and “why do we stay?” – it was a powerful exercise for me to really examine and be self-aware about why I work in health care.


Carolyn: What has been the most rewarding process you have undertaken to improve patient experience?


Kim: The most rewarding experiences for me are when patients (customers) work with staff to co-design improvements.  We ran a simulation exercise in 2016 whereby the staff members became the ‘patient’ and patient became the ‘care giver’. We asked the staff member (which included nurses, physios, doctors and even the leadership team) to sit in a safety chair and attempt a scenario task (go to the toilet at meal time or alert the nurse they were in extreme pain). Not only were the staff members in a safety chair but they were attached to a drip, with leg compression equipment on, call bell out of reach and finally we gave them a disability. The disability component was key because it really ramped up the vulnerability of those participating – we made them vision impaired (special glasses), or hearing impaired (ear plugs) or English as there second language (we had someone speak to them in ‘Greek’).

The activity highlighted some obvious issues with patient safety e.g. risk of falls and medication safety but it wasn’t until we surveyed those involved at the end of the activity that the most powerful display of empathy was revealed. We asked them how their experience made them ‘feel’…..and what they told us was amazing, they said they felt “frustrated”, “embarrassed”, “invisible”, “useless” – allowing us to prompt the thought “just imagine how our patients would feel??” Its great watching the “ah ha” moments.


Carolyn: Was it successful?


Kim: It was a great success and I have gone on to use the insights of the staff as the focus of future staff education and training exercises.



CXInsights 360 – The importance of Empathy

Immersing yourself in another world not only opens you up to new creative possibilities, but it allows you to leave behind preconceived ideas and outmoded ways of thinking. Empathising with the people you’re designing for is the best route to truly grasping the context and complexities of their lives. But most importantly, it keeps the people you’re designing for squarely grounded in the centre of your work.


6peas a customer experience consultancyCarolyn Grant is founder of 6peas – a customer experience consultancy working with organisations to maximise the value of customers by driving customer loyalty. We do this by helping businesses engage with their customers and create memorable and shareable experiences. An architect and facilitator of creating great customer experiences with organisations big and small. Working with boards, executives, marketing and sales teams to generate insights that create exceptional experiences. Join our journey of creating great experiences one meaningful connection at a time.


Kim Moyes at the time of this article was the Director of Clinical Governance at a largest Hospital and Health Service in Australia. Kim works as a external consultant in the Experience in Health team within the 6peas team helping businesses, government and organisations.  We help organisations put people first with positive, memorable experiences which improve quality of life by bringing happiness.  Kim is now the Health Contributor to 6peas Experience in Health.