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Enhance patient experience and wait times with empathy – insights from Dr. Sarah Gard Lazarus

By Ryan Donohue, NRC Health Strategic Advisor and host of Patient No Longer

Welcome back to another episode of the Patient No Longer podcast by NRC Health

We’re diving deep into the world of patient care and experience with a special guest, Dr. Sarah Gard Lazarus.

Dr. Sarah Gard Lazarus is a pediatric emergency medicine doctor. She is a founding member of the Children’s Injury Prevention Program (CHIP) through Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Today, we’ll learn about Dr. Gard’s path to becoming a pediatric emergency room doctor, patient wait times, empathy in healthcare, and much more. 

Watch the full podcast  below.

New episodes released weekly!

Lessons learned from waitress to ER

Dr. Gard Lazarus’s journey into emergency medicine is unconventional. 

She recounts everything she learned as an emergency room doctor she learned as a waitress. 

For example, a hospital is like a restaurant with a menu serving different types of food. The physicians are the chefs trying to find all the ingredients to prepare the food the customers have ordered. 

By gaining background knowledge of waitressing, Dr. Gard Lazarus is better equipped to understand patient struggles with things like managing expectations for wait times and communicating with empathy.

Understanding patient wait times

One of the critical aspects of patient experience in healthcare is wait times. 

Dr. Gard Lazarus emphasizes the importance of effectively acknowledging and managing patient wait times. 

75% of patients overestimate wait times. 

Doctors need to acknowledge the long wait time and show empathy. We know people get frustrated. But taking the time to understand and acknowledge can go a long way. 

Doctors understand people are coming to them for help. Put down your guard and simply say, “Sorry, I know it’s been a long time.”

We need to manage wait times by explaining.

Empathy in healthcare is more than a buzzword

Empathy is often touted as a fundamental aspect of healthcare, but Dr. Gard Lazarus offers a refreshing perspective. 

She believes empathy is not merely an innate trait but a skill that can be cultivated and taught through training and practice. 

We can teach physical exam skills, so we should be able to teach empathy. 

For example, Dr. Gard remembers a previous patient’s comment stating she didn’t listen to the heart or look in their ears. 

As a result of that comment, Dr. Gard now verbalizes all of the activities she’s performing as part of the patient exam. This helps educate the patient and shows that, as a physician, she is acknowledging all potential areas of concern. 

By prioritizing empathy, healthcare professionals can create meaningful connections with patients and improve overall satisfaction.

Dr. Lazarus’s top 10 transferable practices for enhancing patient care

Drawing from her extensive experience, Dr. Gard Lazarus shares ten transferable practices for enhancing patient care. 


Like being a waitress or hostess, you should greet the patient with warmth and care.  

This is your time as a physician to pause before entering the room. Think about the patient’s satisfaction. 

Remember, this patient is coming to you for help. 

Can I get you a cocktail?

This is where the physician wants to understand better how they can alleviate pain or suffering for the patient. 

For example, Dr. Lazarus applies lidocaine cream on any child who comes into the ER and may need an IV to help immediately decrease the pain and reduce wait times. 

These practices encompass various aspects, from greeting patients warmly to actively listening to their concerns. 

These strategies allow healthcare providers to create a more supportive and compassionate care environment.

Empathy and communication can influence the patient and family experience

Dr. Sarah Gard Lazarus provides valuable insights into enhancing patient experience in healthcare. 

Her last piece of advice is, “Never lose your passion.” 

By prioritizing empathy, communication, and proactive care practices, healthcare providers can foster a culture of compassion and understanding. 

As Dr. Gard Lazarus reminds us, every interaction with a patient is an opportunity to make a positive impact.