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Wait times, empathy, and enhancing patient experience

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Pediatric emergency room insights: Wait times, empathy, and enhancing patient experience

In this episode of NRC Health’s Patient No Longer podcast we explore the the importance of adopting an appreciative approach to healthcare.


Wait times, empathy, and enhancing patient experience, hosted by Ryan Donohue, thought leader, author, and strategic advisor with NRC Health  

Podcast Guest

Sarah Gard Lazarus, DO, Physician of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Children’s Health Care of Atlanta and WellStar Hospitals 

In the latest episode of Patient No Longer, Lazarus provides insights into the challenges and considerations of pediatric emergency medicine, emphasizing empathy, communication, and continuous improvement in patient care. 


Acknowledging wait times helps show your patients that you see their human experience. Lazarus  

emphasizes the importance of acknowledging and apologizing for patient wait times, as that factor significantly influences the patient and family experience. 

“We know that 75 percent of patients overestimate their wait times, so we make sure that we apologize right away when we come in and recognize that a patient is waiting to be seen,” she says. “We must put down our guard and say, ‘I’m sorry. We know it’s been a long time.’”

With the unpredictable nature of the emergency room, where the same patient may experience vastly different wait times based on the overall environment, Lazarus says managing expectations is especially important—and difficult. 

“It’s hard as a physician, because with HIPAA, you can’t say, ‘I’m sorry you were waiting, but I was just dealing with a drowning.’ We just can’t do that, so it’s managing those expectations and realizing the person you’re talking to thinks their child has the most serious thing in the emergency room. It’s important to say, ‘I’m sorry you waited. But we’re going to make sure your child’s okay, and from here on, we will do our best for you.’” 

What we do in the pediatric emergency room is a true privilege. If we don’t take that privilege for granted, we’ll remember to really provide the best care. Lazarus says that she has colleagues who are frustrated by consumer comments and want to ignore that part, but that she sees comments as important and valuable. 

“I always want to make sure that each of us strives to be the best person we can be,” she says. “And if we’re ignoring that part of the family experience and just focusing on quality and safety—which are admittedly very important—we’re ignoring a huge part of the patient’s feelings. And I never want to feel like I’m overlooking that.” 

Patient comments matter. “I was talking to my hospital’s patient-experience director at the HUB23 conference, and I said, ‘Hey, why aren’t we getting our comments? You’re not sending them anymore,’” Lazarus recalls. “She said no one else wants to see them—there are so many other drivers related to emergency room care.  

“So the physicians are saying, ‘Well, this isn’t me,’” she continues. “But what if 10 percent of those comments are you, and you can change that 10 percent? If there’s a 10 percent response about your care and there are things there that you may be able to improve yourself, then that’s something you should probably look at.” 

Empathy can be taught. When Lazarus was younger, she thought empathy was just a gift you were given. Now she knows that because empathy can be cognitive, it’s something that can be taught. 

“Psychometrically sound instruments such as the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy can measure empathy,” she says. “We can focus on honing those skills in learners—whether they’re nurse learners, physician learners, or administrators—because we can teach things like physical exam skills, so why can’t we teach empathy as well? We need to switch and think of it not as a God-given gift but as something we can learn, similar to clinical exam skills.” 

Listen to the full Patient No Longer episode to learn about Lazurus’s love of horrible reality television and what turning 40 has meant to her, among other insights.

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