Optimal health care requires humanism—not just scientific excellence, but also compassion and collaboration. This truth is understood intuitively by patients, their family members, and health care professionals.
Consider what a difference humanism can make.
When people take even a minute or two to greet, to connect, and to begin to know each other, trust and well-being grow. And with that trust, speed and efficiency, as well as enjoyment, increase. This is true in any setting, whether it is a hospital room, a clinic, a billing office, or a product training. These behaviors have vast implications for patient experience and outcomes, costs, and clinician and employee well-being. We call this human connection—or the ability to put human interests, values, and dignity at the core of health care—by the shorthand of “humanism.”
The Arnold P. Gold Foundation has been a change agent, by studying and championing humanism in health care for more than 30 years. In 1993 the Gold Foundation initiated the White Coat Ceremony, a ritual to emphasize humanism at the very beginning of health professions training. This iconic ceremony has since spread around the country and the globe, including to more than 300 nursing schools. Nearly every medical school in the United States has a Gold Foundation program in place, such as the White Coat Ceremony or a Gold Humanism Honor Society chapter.
Recently, those of us devoted to humanism in medicine realized the important role that health care corporations, such as pharmaceutical and medical device makers, distributors, technology vendors, health plans and insurers, and laboratory service providers, play in the health care ecosystem. The experience of a patient is heavily influenced by, yes, a physician or a nurse, but also by every person in the network of care—whether it is the person processing a bill, or mopping the hospital room floor, or delivering the medication. At every step, humanism can help aid healing. And, in the same way, lack of respect, compassion, and empathy can hinder healing.
Companies that are in the business of health care have been slow to incorporate humanism as an essential factor in their culture and strategy for success. Governmental policies and reimbursement structures have not encouraged this shift. For example, health care payments, which often include incentives for improved outcomes, do not acknowledge such critical factors as respect, compassion, careful listening, or trust, which have been shown to affect healing.
In 2017, in recognition of the importance of collectively strengthening humanism more broadly across the health care ecosystem, we created the Gold Corporate Council. Five corporations stepped forward to become founding members: BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), Henry Schein, Inc., IBM Watson Health, Medtronic, and Quest Diagnostics.
The Gold Corporate Council is not an honorific society. The member companies have committed to adopting humanistic policies and procedures within their own organizations, and to collaborating with the Gold Foundation to effect change across the broader health care ecosystem.
Members Of The Gold Corporate Council
Quest Diagnostics, for instance, has implemented a customized version of the Gold Foundation’s Tell Me More® strategy. Tell Me More® encourages patients and providers to share a few simple details about themselves to help establish a stronger connection between patients and those who care for them. In the original Tell Me More® program, for example, a patient might write: “I’m a grandfather of 12. I love to garden. My favorite team is the New York Mets.” This personal information is displayed prominently and shared with hospital staff who enter his room, whether they are sweeping the floor or checking vital signs, and offers a possible way for the patient and staff to get to know each other beyond diagnoses and job descriptions. Quest Diagnostics uses a customized version of Tell Me More® in its Everyday Excellence program to help its employees build a connection with patients and customers.
At IBM Watson Health, the importance of humanism is core to its mission of helping drive digital transformation in health care through data, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI), so health professionals can focus on what they do best—helping people. The Gold Foundation and IBM Watson Health have teamed up on a number of activities to address the importance of humanism in health care. For example, at the 2019 Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference, leaders from the two organizations spoke about the important role that technology can play to help reduce clinician burnout.
Medtronic is exploring how it can best incorporate the initiatives of the Gold Foundation into its product training. BD is collaborating with the Gold Foundation to understand how we might best work together with community health centers.
Henry Schein, Inc., is exploring with the Gold Foundation several opportunities globally to amplify the voice of humanism in health care among the company’s key constituencies, including the health care practitioners they serve and partner organizations. Henry Schein, Inc., is also working to find ways to engage medical students in social outreach opportunities.
Taken together, these five corporations alone employ more than 200,000 people and touch millions of people globally with their services and products every year.
Spreading The Word
This work of the Gold Corporate Council is not meant to be contained within the walls of the members’ companies. The council members believe that humanism is critical to all of us. It is a competitive advantage, but it is not a zero-sum game. We all thrive when other people, institutions, and companies—yes, even competitors—embrace humanism, too. The Gold Corporate Council aspires to have a broader influence. We hope to seed and elevate the importance of compassion and empathy in health care, igniting conversation and action throughout the health care industry.
Stanley Bergman, chairman of the board and CEO of Henry Schein, Inc., recently published an editorial in Chief Executive magazine urging others to “keep humanity at the core of healthcare.” He wrote: “Comforting the family as well as the patient, according to the research, results in tangible benefits, including better treatment adherence, fewer complications, and reduced readmissions. This is a higher ambition than merely cutting bone and suturing skin.”
If CEOs and other executives want additional proof that studying and inculcating humanism into their businesses is worth their time, we advise that they read a new book by Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli of Cooper University Health Care: Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference. These physician researchers have combed through studies to show how compassion improves patient experience and outcomes, lowers costs, and combats clinician burnout. (These four goals have also been called the “Quadruple Aim” of health care, and humanism influences them all for the better, as the authors show in their citations of hundreds of studies.)
The work of the Gold Corporate Council is just beginning. We plan to map a path for other corporations and institutions to build upon the power of humanism and instill it within their product development, work culture, employee support, and the ultimate care of patients and customers.
We are eager for corporations to begin to transform their cultures, policies, and processes to embrace humanism and measure the impact. The Gold Foundation and our Gold Corporate Council believe the difference will be clear and meaningful. We invite you to join us, and to share your own discoveries and best practices on this path.
In these turbulent times for the health care ecosystem, an increase in commitment to humanism may be the one thing we can all agree on.
The Arnold P. Gold Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1988 to infuse humanism into health care, ensuring compassionate, collaborative, and scientifically excellent care for all. Co-founder Arnold P. Gold, a pediatric neurologist at Columbia University, noticed a marked shift away from the essential connection of health professionals with patients and their families. The creation of The Arnold P. Gold Foundation began a quest to “Keep Healthcare Human.” Over its 30 years, the organization has been supported by and has partnered with a variety of sources: individual donors, the Gold Corporate Council, medical school and hospital/health system members of the Gold Partners Council, and many foundations, including the Russell Berrie Foundation, the Tow Foundation, the Seiden Family Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation, and the Vilcek Foundation. To learn more, please visit www.gold-foundation.org.