Dr. Bridget Duffy: Combining Empathy, Data Analytics and The Human Story

duffy1-300x300Imagine being a patient in the ICU following heart surgery. Now, imagine being that same patient and, due to complications, your stay has lasted for 28 days.

Bridget Duffy, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Vocera Communications, Inc., cared for such a patient during her last year of residency. She had been up all night and was reviewing the patient’s chart when clinician after clinician entered the room and took the chart from her hands.

“Each clinician reviewed the chart, tweaked the machine that dealt with each of his broken body parts, and left,” Dr. Duffy said. “No one spoke to the patient or even touched him.” So, Dr. Duffy approached the patient’s bedside, placed her hand over his heart and spoke quietly in his ear.

“I told him who I was and that we were doing everything we could to restore him to full health. Even though he couldn’t respond, I knew he understood.” It was then Dr. Duffy realized that her patient wasn’t diseased and fragmented, but rather the system.

Following this encounter, Dr. Duffy called Earl Bakken, the inventor of the pacemaker and founder of Medtronic and asked if she could join him in his mission to create the most healing hospital in the U.S.

And so began her 20-year journey to humanize healthcare, leading her to become the Chief Experience Officer (CXO) of the Cleveland Clinic–the first senior position of its kind in healthcare in the nation. As CXO, she listened to the voice of patients, families, nurses, physicians and other care team members to define the components of an optimal healing and working environment. Since then, Dr. Duffy has been very influential in growing the CXO role at hospitals across the country. Now, more than 100 physician leaders have this title.

The Queen of Empathy

It wasn’t easy being a pioneer. Her drive to improve the patient experience and make it a top strategic priority for healthcare organizations was called “foo-foo medicine.”

“I was known as the queen of empathy,” she said. “I had a senior leader tell me ‘we are a results-oriented, data-driven organization, and we don’t use words like empathy or employee well-being.’ I told him that’s exactly why I’m here because you can do both. Hospitals can use data to hardwire empathy.’”

Undeterred by the naysayers, Dr. Duffy has persisted for more than 20 years leading a movement to humanize healthcare with innovation. In her role as Chief Medical Officer, she helps design the next generation of communication and collaboration solutions that create seamless experiences of care and return physicians and nurses back to the patient bedside.

Efficiency and Empathy

“The entire country has been solely focused on process improvement and stripping out waste. Yet, a growing body of evidence points to the human experience as a key driver for patient and staff satisfaction, market differentiation, loyalty, outcomes, and financial performance,” Dr. Duffy said. “We needed to bring humanity back to healthcare to accelerate and sustain change.”

Dr. Duffy explained that successful organizations integrate traditional approaches to efficiency and quality with a culture that focuses on trusted relationships and compassionate care. This approach helps reconnect people to purpose and remind them why they entered the practice of medicine in the first place.

Combining satisfaction and loyalty scores with feedback from patients, families, and staff enabled Dr. Duffy and her team to develop processes to improve both the patient and employee experience. Two of these processes involve special procedures designed to proactively incorporate the voices of patients and their families into patient care:

Code Lavender™: While a Code Blue is called in hospitals when a patient needs immediate resuscitation of the heart, lungs or brains, Code Lavender is a rapid response team to resuscitate the emotional, spiritual and physical needs of both patients and staff. At its simplest, Code Lavender is a call to acknowledge the profound emotional needs of those who work or seek care in the hospital. With nurse and physician burnout and emotional fatigue at all-time highs, Code Lavender also lays the foundation for emotional healing that reminds caregivers that their needs matter, increasing satisfaction and well-being.

Informed Hope: Informed Consent explains the potential risks and complications that could occur during a procedure—prior to the procedure and before putting a patient to sleep. Informed Hope speaks to the potential benefits of the procedure and allows the patient to set goals, ask questions and focus on all the things that can go right as a result of a procedure, providing an opportunity to build trust and relationship between doctor and patient.

The bottom line? Improving the patient experience is meaningful for patients, staff, and caregivers, which in turn helps the organization meet clinical and financial goals.

“Only 20% of healing is linked to technology…”

There were times when Dr. Duffy felt like a lone voice in the wilderness. It was patients and her mentors, Bakken and her father, Dr. John Duffy, who kept her going.

“My dad was a periodontist and performed surgery every day,” she said. “Every night after dinner he would call each of his patients to check on them. He set the example for me.”

Early-on in her journey, Bakken shared with Dr. Duffy something he learned from Papy Henry, his dear friend and cultural guide, who would inspire and influence the creation of North Hawaii Community Hospital. Henry taught that in healing, 80 percent of success is a result of spirituality, and 20 percent is a result of medicine and medical technology. Dr. Duffy believes the 80 percent also includes the patients’ physical environment and human-to-human interaction.

A New Breed of Patients and Metrics

Over the next three to five years Dr. Duffy believes healthcare organizations will hardwire human-centered innovations to design better experiences for patients, families and staff that will drive market differentiation, loyalty and growth. Clinicians, drawing on data from various sources, will identify root causes of gaps in communication and performance, and will address employee and patient dissatisfaction more quickly.

“Hospital and health systems leaders need to create connectivity and relationships, or patients and staff will leave their organizations,” Dr. Duffy said. “Clinicians must also own employee morale and engagement along with patient satisfaction and safety.”

She believes when healthcare organizations make patient experience a top strategic priority, they will realize a positive impact on their patient satisfaction scores, as well as the bottom line.

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