Director's Message: The Heart of Patient Enrollment

March 20, 2013
Kristine Hodsdon, RDH, writes, "We know that excellent communication is essential for a fulfilling life and more prosperous work/life relationships. One of the main ingredients of excellent communication is empathy."

We know that excellent communication is essential for a fulfilling life and more prosperous work/life relationships. One of the main ingredients of excellent communication is empathy.

But what exactly is empathy?

In considering this question, let me share the following story.

“The Blind Man”

An old man with dark glasses was sitting on a busy street corner during rush hour. He was playing a saxophone and begging for money. On the cardboard sign, next to an empty tin cup, he had written: Blind – Please Help.

Despite the sign, no one was stopping and giving him any money.

After a while, a junior advertising copy writer walked past and saw the blind man with his sign and empty cup, and also saw that many people were passing by quite unmoved, let alone stopping to give him money.

The advertising writer took a thick marker from his pocket, turned the piece of cardboard over and rewrote the sign, and then went on his way.

Immediately, people began putting money into the tin cup. After a while, when the cup was overflowing with coins and dollar bills, the blind man asked a stranger to tell him what the sign now said. “It says,” said the stranger, “It’s a beautiful day. You can see it. I cannot.”

We react stronger to stories that have an emotional component to them, and the story I just shared illustrates how we connect to others through our emotions.

Identifying with and understanding someone else’s situation is what empathy is all about. As the 18th century English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said, “What comes from the heart, goes to the heart.” True empathy requires us to be aware of others and the emotions they are experiencing.”

I contend that in order to tap into empathetic patient enrollment conversations, we first must tap into our own hearts.

We often get caught up in daily work challenges — cancellations, emergency patients, and or a team members calling in sick. Or, our minds are thinking about all the activities we want to accomplish during the lunch hour and/or after work, and we feel over-whelmed, stressed, and disconnected from our patients and colleagues.

What if we can take a moment and bring our hearts into coherence with our brain and body? Wouldn’t we be connecting with our patients at another level? Heart coherence is a scientifically validated state, or some may know it better as the new field of study called “neurocardiology.”

The heart is the organ of empathy. What scientists are finding is that the heart is independent of the mind, and it is a thinking organ that has a steady electromagnetic field. An incredible organization called the Institute of HeartMath has researched head-heart interactions.

They state, traditionally, the study of communication pathways between the "head" and “heart” has been approached from a pretty biased perspective, with scientists focusing primarily on the heart’s responses to the brain’s commands. However, HeartMath studies show that communication between the heart and brain is a powerful, ongoing, two-way dialogue, with each organ continuously influencing the other’s capacity. Research has shown that the heart communicates with the brain in four main ways: neurologically (through the transmission of nerve impulses), biochemically (via hormones and neurotransmitters), biophysically (through pressure waves), and energetically (through electromagnetic field interactions). Communication along all these conduits significantly affects the brain’s activity (yours and your patients).

The electrical component of the heart’s field energy penetrates not only every cell of our bodies, but also its magnetic component has been detected, via magnetometers, several feet away from the originators body. So, if we consider the “heart mind” as a strong organ in our body system, then tapping into this vital force energy, especially when we are chairside with our patients, may be an essential communication channel.

Consider that if your heart, mind, body, and spirit are energetically aligning and cooperating with one another — which then prompt you to experience a new baseline of vibrant health, deeper relationships, satisfying work, and peace in your day — then your enrollment conversations come from a deeper awareness of your contribution and empathy with your patients.

When you consider this fascinating research on how connected (or not) you are to the hearts of your patients, you may be able transform everyday challenges and enrollment conversations into empathetic and more productive conversations and increased services.

Kristine A. Hodsdon
Director, RDH eVillage

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