As the U.S. healthcare system begins to shift from volume-based care to value-based care, priorities of medical staff are beginning to center on the health outcomes of the patient instead of profit margins. However, patient-centered care does not just include new care delivery models but also improved relationships and interactions between providers and patients. These relationships and interactions rely solely on the emotional intelligence of administrators, physicians, nurses, and staff. Frequently confused with personality, emotional intelligence involves several categories including self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, social awareness, and general social skills. The importance of EQ is often underestimated by all sectors of business, however especially so in the healthcare industry.
Physician empathy has been proven to increase patient satisfaction, compliance with treatment, and positively correlates with fewer medical errors. Well-practiced EQ efforts can improve physician-patient relationships, teamwork, communication, stress management, loyalty, career satisfaction, and leadership abilities. New protocols in healthcare organizations will habitually fail to be successfully adopted by staff because individuals will feel too afraid to correct their coworkers and avoid confrontation. In one specific example where a patient has had an adverse reaction to anesthesiology, which often happens in many medical care facilities, the patient was still upset after the issue was resolved. While the nurse provided the correct treatment and the patient’s symptoms improved, the nurse never attempted to calm the patient or instill confidence and even failed to recognize the anxiety in the situation. From the patient’s perspective, they received low-quality care, regardless of the health outcome.
There are several key characteristics of high emotional intelligence. Unlike an employee’s personality, emotional intelligence can be improved. An employee with high EQ generally displays more intrinsic motivation. While they may recognize that they should receive more credit for their work, they will continue without it knowing that credit will eventually be due in the future. They can tolerate conflict and remain focused. They avoid involving themselves among small office disputes and maintain their professional goals as a priority. Employees with high EQs are bold in that they are not afraid to speak up when needed, but also understand that timing is everything. They generally take responsibility for their actions, regardless of the results and are marketable internally and externally. Employers trust that they can represent the company and be efficient in their responsibilities
The key question then is how do we hire for emotional intelligence? Many managers are less adaptable than they need to be in the fast-paced setting of healthcare. They lack basic empathy skills and fail to understand the needs of their staff resulting in those needs being unmet and lacking the ability to inspire individuals on their teams to act. We often hire for technical skills, certifications, and educational backgrounds – none of which impacts whether the candidate can build great teams or work well with others. The solution? References and behavioral interviewing. Instead of simply requesting letters of references, hiring managers should make contact and hold a conversation with the candidates’ references. Hiring managers will be able to better assess a candidate’s skills and how they respond to certain situations. Behavioral interviewing is also becoming a more common practice. This interviewing style requires the interviewer to provide the job candidate with hypothetical situations and then ask the job candidate how they would respond or react in those situations. When asked other questions about their skills, candidates typically talk about an idealized version of themselves and what they would like to be, rather than how they actually behave. Behavioral interviewing avoids these reactions and can better assess the candidate’s abilities to perform on the job.
The specific, individual behaviors and interactions of every physician, nurse and staff member are what drive patient-centered care. In order to improve value and the patient experience, we will need to improve with the daily interactions of staff and patients. The simplest way to achieve this is, of course, to hire more employees with high levels of emotional intelligence. However, there are means to improve current levels of emotional intelligence in order to achieve the same results. While personality traits may be a factor in the success of healthcare teams, the way that those personalities interact with each other and understand their surroundings is even more critical.