Empathy and Communication for Better Patient Experiences

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Listen now to “Empathy and Communication for Better Patient Experiences”

Kathleen Lynam, an Executive Coach and Senior Advisor with the Healthcare Experience Foundation (HXF) joins our podcast to discuss empathy, communication, mindfulness, and many other important topics impacting the patient experience.

Before joining HXF, Kathleen Lynam served for 18 years as a registered nurse with The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J. Her journey took her from a position of staff nurse to Vice President of Acute and Ambulatory Services. It was during this time caring for patients when she found her love for coaching others to achieve amazing outcomes for patients. 

As we learn on today’s podcast: empathy, communication and mindfulness are key when it comes to helping patients, colleagues, and ourselves. Below are some highlights of this moving discussion with Kathleen. 

Defining Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Often it is the tipping point for the patient experience.

We know from experience that a driving force for a positive patient experience is when a patient feels heard. To demonstrate that, we must show with words or actions, we understand what a patient or family member is feeling and then somehow communicate that we understand.

This could be something like a comforting touch of a hand, shoulder, or flashing an encouraging smile. 

Building Trust

If empathy is the foundation of a good patient experience, the next important step, like in any relationship, is building trust.

Trust can never be assumed, especially now more than ever in healthcare. All of us must work hard at building the confidence of patients and their loved ones.  Trust is certainly the cornerstone for a healthy patient-caregiver experience.   

When someone trusts another, the defense mechanism in our brain relaxes.

“When there is fear we cannot hear,” Kathleen said.

We need to take the time to build trust, understand the health literacy of our patients, and practice good teach-back. We must teach not only what we are doing, but we must also explain why we are doing something.

If our patient trusts us, they will hopefully feel safe enough to say, “Could you say that again or I don’t understand.”

Empathy Starts Early

We know from years of research that babies as young as six months old demonstrate empathy. We see this when one baby is crying, and other babies will make efforts to comfort the crying baby.

We know that empathy is within each of us. The problem is we may have forgotten that it is within us. We are all capable of demonstrating empathy, kindness and warmth to others. 


Mindfulness begins with learning how to be present. It sounds simple, but it takes an effort to remove distractions. We must choose to be focused on our body language and words while listening to all of what is said and not said. It’s important to reflect what we have heard or seen back to our patients in a caring manner.   

Empathy entails identifying what others are feeling and acknowledging that. It’s important to find ways to connect with the person not as a patient, or a diagnosis, but as a fellow human being.

Like any muscle you want to strengthen, we build empathy by practicing it.

“If we want to exceed a patient’s expectations, we need to understand where they are so that we can provide them with the best quality, the best safety, and the best outcomes,” Kathleen said. 

Learn More

Make sure to listen to today’s podcast to learn more about empathy: 

Ready to learn even more about empathy? The Healthcare Experience Academy has an empathy course that is now available.

For more episodes of Healthcare Experience Matters, you can subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube or wherever you get your favorite podcasts today!

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Our podcast is dedicated to transforming the health care experience so that every person can receive and deliver the best care.

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Meet Kathleen Lynam, RN, MPA

Today, Kathleen Lynam brings extensive clinical, operational, and executive level experience in both small and large healthcare organizations across the country to her role as Executive Coach. But Kathleen is so much more than a coach. She is a national speaker, presenter and champion for patient care. Before stepping into the world of healthcare administration and, specifically, coaching, Kathleen spent over 40 years as a front-line nurse and Chief Nursing Officer at various medical centers and hospitals systems throughout New Jersey and New York. She knows what strong teams look and act like, having served in various leadership and coaching positions for large healthcare systems like Duke University Health System in Raleigh, Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, New York as well as urban hospitals and community medical centers in the Bronx and Queens.

Now, with over 40 years of diverse experience in healthcare management, Kathleen is acutely aware of the power of positive patient care experiences on not just administrators seeking to improve outcomes, but also nursing teams working to make a difference in the lives of their patients.

Whether it’s working side-by-side to help front-line nurses and teams uncover different ways to wow patients and families, or working side-by-side with CEOs and CMOs of hospitals to solicit authentic feedback from members of their teams, Kathleen’s greatest delight is empowering healthcare teams with an engaging, hands-on approach that helps both organizations and individuals thrive.

Kathleen is a respected executive coach who has worked with organizations across the country to achieve results through embracing a culture of “every patient every time.” She has authored numerous articles on patient-centered communication, physician engagement and coaching, and has been a featured writer and speaker for notable organizations and publications such as PX Advisor Magazine, The Beryl Institute, Duke University, Dominical College School of Nursing, AACP, and the Society of Healthcare Pharmacists.

Connect with Kathleen Lynam, RN, MPA
More episodes with Kathleen Lynam, RN, MPA