Highly Reliable Patient Communication Starts with CARES™

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This week on our podcast, we welcome Deborah Zastocki, DNP, Ed.M., MA, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE, and Katie Owens, MHA, CPXP, to provide us with an overview of the CARES™ model for highly reliable patient communication.

CARES™ is a set of macro competencies developed by our Healthcare Experience Foundation (HXF) team based on nearly 15 years of studying and coaching patient communication interactions with thousands of leaders, staff, physicians, and providers blended with constantly emerging research at the intersection of patient experience and quality.

This recording is a recent live learning event webinar that has been condensed and shortened for a more friendly podcast listening experience.

Patient experience can be defined as the sum of all interactions patients encounter throughout their healthcare journey. The CARES™ model is not confined to a single interaction; rather, it comprises numerous micro competencies that, when combined, create an exceptional patient experience.

One of the primary objectives of CARES™ is to improve communication agility, allowing healthcare professionals to adapt effectively to the unique needs and preferences of each patient.

By doing so, they can establish a sense of trust, compassion, and safety, resulting in an environment that fosters optimal patient engagement and satisfaction.

Health literacy poses significant challenges in healthcare settings. Many folks don’t realize only 12% of U.S. adults demonstrate proficiency in health literacy. Moreover, over a third of adults struggle with basic tasks such as adhering to prescriptions or healthcare regimens.

These gaps in health literacy impact everyone, making it crucial to enhance communication strategies that can bridge this divide and ensure patients receive the compassionate care they need. When providers display compassion, they are more likely to provide meticulous care and reduce the occurrence of medical errors.

To improve patient experiences, it is essential to understand the diverse perspectives and expectations of patients and their families. Different generations have distinct expectations, and with advancements in technology, access to care, and the prevalence of health information, these expectations continue to evolve. Healthcare professionals must adapt their communication approaches to align with patients’ perspectives and set realistic expectations for their care journeys.

This renders the CARES™ model more important than ever to understand and share. CARES™ is an acronym for Confidence, Anticipate Needs, Respectful Communication, Engage in Care & Process, and Say Thank You, Make a Safe Transition.


First impressions are vital. In healthcare we must portray confidence in ourselves and build trust within our patients. When patients – and their loved ones – trust us, they are better equipped to participate in their care. This will promote their own healing and wellness.

Anticipate Needs

Empathy is all about anticipating what our patients require and learning how to view the tasks we perform from our patients’ viewpoint. Anticipating needs is about recognizing slight gestures and picking up on body language. We must create a deeper connection with patients by anticipating needs beyond the clinical limit.

Respectful Communication

We must avoid miscommunicating through body language that lacks empathy and using medical jargon we assume patients understand. Respectful communication builds trust and reduces anxiety.

Engage in Care & Process

Excellent care results from successful efforts to help patients understand what we are doing and why. When we can narrate our care effectively, we engage patients in their own care. Learning how to better do this in each interaction with patients help us:

•    Eliminate miscues.

•    Avoid misunderstandings.

•    Set proper expectations time and time again.

Say Thank You, Make a Safe Transition

What do you want your patients to remember about you? People generally do not remember what you say or do, but they do remember how you make them feel.

When our time of care is complete and the patient moves on, we must offer our sincere thanks for the chance to care for them. It is imperative they feel gratitude from us as they return home or move to another department.

Ready to Learn More?

Learn about getting a CARES™ Connect demo from PRC, and for more information on upcoming events, webinars, and resources from PRC, please visit:

Ready to learn even more about CARES™ Connect? The Healthcare Experience Academy has a CARES™ Connect course that is now available.  You can check it out here:

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Meet Deborah Zastocki, DNP, Ed.M., MA, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE

Deborah, is an Executive Coach with the Healthcare Experience Foundation and the Founder and President of Legacy Healthcare Management Consulting in North Carolina. She has accumulated extensive experience as a healthcare executive by leading organizations through strategic planning, innovative new community services, hospital, and foundation board governance, developing alliances with other healthcare systems as well as organizational mergers.

Formerly, Deborah was the president and CEO of Chilton Medical Center, in Pompton Plains, NJ and successfully led the organization and medical staff by developing and implementing prescriptive and focused strategic plans. She maintains board member and board leadership status on not for profit, for profit, academic, and professional boards at both the state and national levels. She has also authored an article about transforming board governance in healthcare.

She received her BSN from the University of Rhode Island; both Masters’ degrees from Teachers College Columbia University, and her DNP from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ. Debbie has accrued over 30 years of experience in healthcare where her professional career has emphasized a clinical and professional journey from clinical nurse to nurse executive roles, author, academic educator, and healthcare executive. Her multifaceted experience provides her the ability to authoring professional educational solutions, national presentations, healthcare consulting, organization and leadership transformational change, physician engagement, and executive, business and personal coaching.

Connect with Deborah Zastocki, DNP, Ed.M., MA, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE
Meet Katie Owens

Katie believes that the way we deliver and receive healthcare matters—not just for the patients, but for the caregivers, the providers, and administration, too.

As President of the Healthcare Experience Foundation, Katie is taking bold steps to assure that every organization has access to resources for engaging patients and developing their workforce to achieve results. Katie is an innovator, implementing new ways to deliver the best in patient-centered care.

She has influenced hundreds of organizations and thousands of leaders to equip their cultures and instill competencies that create environments of person-centered excellence. Her fundamental tenet is that every person is worthy of an environment where they feel confident in receiving and delivering the best possible care. Known as a leader among leaders, Katie previously served on the HealthStream Leadership Team as Vice President of the Engagement Institute. She also served on the Baptist Health Care (BHC) leadership team in Pensacola, Florida, where she supported the system’s sustained journey to excellence. Katie has led teams of expert coaches dedicated to improving the quality of the patient experience and has been instrumental in creating leading-edge learning assets to support patient experience competencies. She is most proud of having grown Baptist Leadership Group to one of the most respected healthcare coaching practices in the country before being acquired by HealthStream in 2013.

Katie is the lead author of The HCAHPS Imperative for Creating Patient-Centered Excellence and is currently writing her second book about the importance of speaking the patient’s language. She is frequently quoted and has been published in the Huffington Post, Healthcare Financial Management Magazine and Hospitals and Health Networks. She is an energetic, internationally-recognized speaker and has presented for many highly-respected organizations, including American College of Healthcare Executives, Beryl Institute, Cleveland Clinic’s Empathy Summit, Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development, and Healthcare Financial Management Association.

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