AE May/June 2021 Vol 30 No 3 - 9

empathetic behavior. So I did some
research about empathy in the
medical field.
According to Theresa Wiseman,
empathy has four attributes1:
1.	Seeing the world as others see it.
Try to see the situation through
someone else's eyes. Ask questions
such as: Can you tell me what is
going on for you? or What feelings
are you experiencing right now?
2.	Non-judging. Try to describe
the situation as neither good
nor bad. Do not shame others
for having the feelings they
have. If you cannot relate to
them, acknowledge that you do
not understand.
3.	Understanding another's
feelings. Try to recognize others'
emotions through their body
language. Are they overwhelmed?
4.	Communicating the understanding. Try to tell others you
see how this experience has
caused pain, anger, or frustration.
SEEDING " AH-HA " MOMENTS
I took this information to our staff
meeting. When reading the definition of empathy, several staff had an
ah-ha moment. They realized their
personal growth during these trying
times as well as a cultural change in
our practice.
This information also stimulated a group conversation that
would have been difficult for me
to encourage pre-COVID-19.
We all agreed that empathy is
attempting to put yourself in
someone else's shoes to gain a
different perspective. This engagement leads to understanding each
other as well as becoming more
connected to the other person.
Many agreed this will lead to
a solution or resolution to a
problem or fulfilling a need.

FROM INSIGHT TO
IMPLEMENTATION
My next step was to discuss how
empathy can lead to better customer service. Our discussion
produced the following steps we
want to take to provide better
customer service through becoming
more empathetic to our patients.
First, we must embrace the
higher level of anxiety our patients
are facing about coming into our
office. Pre-COVID-19, anxiety in
patients might have been from fear
of a diagnosis or possible surgery.
During COVID-19, they are concerned for their overall health and
safety. We decided to start the conversation at the time they make their
appointment, assuring patients we
are following CDC guidelines and
protocols. By communicating this
information, we are acknowledging
their fears. We found it notable that
in our mask-wearing world, the only
facial feature we can see is other's
eyes! How fitting for ophthalmology
practices! Our eyes tell others a lot
about our feelings.
Second, we addressed how we
can utilize the four attributes of
empathy. We are asking patients
how they are feeling. This simple
question can set the tone for the
visit. When the patient can talk
about their health or fear of the
pandemic, we begin to connect with
the patient. Having the patience to
refrain from judging others requires
listening to them and acknowledging their concerns. As a group
we decided to be more attentive to
our patient's emotions and body
language. Technicians and doctors
are in close contact with the patient
in the examination room. Some
patients are not emotionally ready to
handle this environment. As a group,
we thought it would be helpful for

each of us to have our own short
comment about our struggles during
COVID-19. For example, we might
say " The pandemic has been difficult
for my family. " This one statement,
we hope, will let our patients know
we understand their feelings.
Lastly, we made a commitment
to each other that we will do our
best to show our patients empathy.
I felt it is important that we also
commit to having empathy for
each other. Our patients feel and
see how we treat each other. This
behavior can have an indirect
calming impact on our patients.
The results have been amazing!
Our patients are more engaged and
relaxed during their exam. We have
received more thank-you notes
complimenting our staff in the past
year than we have in the previous
10 years! We have noticed less frustration at check-out when patients
are paying for their visit. Overall, I
have noticed less conflict between
patients and staff.
Our goal is to keep this behavior
going whether we are in the middle
of a pandemic or not! AE
NOTE
Wiseman, Theresa. (1996). A
concept analysis of empathy.
Journal of Advanced Nursing 23:
1162-7. DOI: 10.1046/j.13652648.1996.12213.x Retrieved
from https://www.researchgate.net/
publication/227941757_A_concept_
analysis_of_empathy

1

"

Our patients
are more
engaged
and relaxed
during
their exam.
We have
received
more thankyou notes
... [and] ...
noticed less
frustration
at checkout... [and]
less conflict
between
patients and
staff.

Rebecca Rivenbark, COE,
OCS, CPSS
(management@
carolina2020.com), is
practice administrator at
Carolina Ophthalmology Associates,
Chapel Hill, N.C.

www.asoa.org // AE

9


https://www.researchgate.net/deref/http%3A%2F%2Fdx.doi.org%2F10.1046%2Fj.1365-2648.1996.12213.x https://www.researchgate.net/deref/http%3A%2F%2Fdx.doi.org%2F10.1046%2Fj.1365-2648.1996.12213.x https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227941757_A_concept_analysis_of_empathy https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227941757_A_concept_analysis_of_empathy http://www.asoa.org

AE May/June 2021 Vol 30 No 3

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AE May/June 2021 Vol 30 No 3

AE May/June 2021 Vol 30 No 3 - Cover1
AE May/June 2021 Vol 30 No 3 - Cover2
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