Highlights from the Cleveland Clinic Patient Experience Summit

The conference, in its 9th year, has a unique perspective: advancing empathy in health care.

The opening session grabbed everyone’s attention, with a 35 year old opera singer who was a double lung transplant recipient, and also a cancer survivor…plus her doctor, who wasn’t there to talk about her patient, but the physician’s own experience having a stroke (while she tried to continue doing rounds and catching up on paperwork. Doctors make the worst patients!)

Other general sessions included the founder of Death over Dinner, promoting conversations and advanced care planning (without calling it that) and the amazing story of Jonathan Godfrey, a trauma flight nurse who survived his helicopter crashing into the Potomac. The conference closed with Leilani Schweitzer, whose son died due to medical errors, and is now a patient liaison who speakers about safety culture in hospitals. Kelsie Crowe spoke about Help Each Other Out, her non-profit organization to teach empathy during tough times…to everyone.

Besides attention-commanding presentations, breakout sessions included words like holistic, joy and meaning, gratitude and fun. Phrases in the program included “hacking empathy,” “organizational grit,” “navigating uncertainty,” plus “empathy in times of suffering.” Sessions includes strategies of empathy for transgender patients, opioid addicts, difficult parents of pediatric patients and even more difficult co-workers. Multiple sessions focused on workplace culture, medical residents’ wellness groups and combatting physician burnout.

The most pervasive topic though was…caregiver burnout. CCF defines all of their employees as caregivers, so this includes physicians, nurses, admins, therapists, maintenance and food service, parking and hotel staff -- everyone. Multiple vendors, including EPIC, Microsoft and Press Ganey got a bit of scrutiny as many discussions focused on how challenging it can be to have energy for empathy when there are so many metrics to try to meet, plus tech challenges eating up the day. It’s a tightrope to walk the emphasis on technology and data as a problem solver to free up more time, while being realistic about how that actually plays out in daily practice.

One of the most compelling sessions was from a performer / doctor known as ZDoggMD, who begins as a comedy act and gets many jabs in at the “data industrial complex” that is the current trend in health care. His message was humorous and full of pop culture, skewering the dysfunctions of health care. But he also is very direct about the pain of burnout, a lack of meaningful impact in their daily work and the future of medicine should be high touch, team focused and doctor directed. Through humor, satire rap videos and his personal experience with Health 3.0 (an experimental primary care practice in Las Vegas that ultimately closed due to reimbursement issues.)

The conference itself included art therapy, self-care walking tours, lavender oil in the tote bags and healthy snacks (including little buckets of veggies.) Audio vignette sessions with patient stories were set up at multiple places with MP3 players to check out to listen, and response boards covered in Post-It notes as an interactive activity.

Overall, I found it provocative, innovative and inspiring. There are serious challenges in health care, and it’s incredibly intricate and complicated to try to know what to fix first, but rooting our efforts in the human experience will anchor us as we endeavor to help people, without burning ourselves out.

P.S. Here’s the full agenda / speakers for the conference.