Don’t Underestimate the Impact of Gratitude in Healthcare

November 6, 2019 Page Bullington

In philanthropy, and especially healthcare philanthropy, we talk about grateful patients frequently. However, are we talking enough about gratitude and the role it plays in healthcare and healing?

Gratitude has health benefits from improving heart function to reducing depression. This proves gratitude is a powerful healing tool. As fundraisers, we naturally think of grateful patients and offering a way for them to express gratitude. But, think of the impact gratitude can have on clinicians and the cultural health of healthcare systems.

Because the connection between gratitude and philanthropy is so powerful, it is a critical topic for our industry to understand and think about how we focus on creating an atmosphere where gratitude is fully accepted and embraced by all that interact with the patient or patient’s family.

That’s why I want to share the conversation we had at bbcon 2019 around gratitude, healing and philanthropy. It featured the following panelists and key points below:

  • Alice Ayres, president and CEO of the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy
  • Kim Rich, executive director of advancement services at the Medical University of South Carolina
  • Andrea Gregory, director of event fundraising at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • Mark McCampbell, senior vice president, strategic partnerships at Advancement Resources

Gratitude is good for patients

Gratitude is one of the most critical emotions that patients can feel in terms of their physical healing. It helps a patient not only express their gratitude, but it is also a sign of improvement in their health – that they can focus on something other than pain.

“The Ride for Roswell provides an opportunity for families to come together and make a difference,” explained Andrea Gregory.  “Every team has a story – they’re not just coming out to ride their bike. Someone has been touched by cancer and all the riders are rallying around them.”

Before a patient can feel gratitude, the patient needs to feel that the care is unexpected and that the benefit they received was given in a purposeful and meaningful way. When the patient feels these things, gratitude motivates them to act. They feel completely compelled to do something to express gratitude.

“While people say ‘thank you’ in many ways – that range from words to hugs to volunteerism to advocacy – we also know that gratitude is a powerful lever to advance philanthropy,” explained Alice Ayres. “In fact, gratitude is a more powerful motivator for giving than outcomes, quality or brand reputation.”

A good grateful patient program gives patients an outlet to show their gratitude – in the way they feel most comfortable.

Gratitude is good for physicians

More than half of U.S. physicians say they are struggling with burnout—a syndrome characterized by a high degree of emotional exhaustion and cynicism and a low sense of personal accomplishment. Gratitude can help.

Kim Rich told the story of a liver transplant patient. “What I find really compelling about this story is that 20 years after the transplant, Elizabeth is doing fine and she has made her doctor part of her story. She still emails her doctor every time something happens in her life… including having a child. The fact that she almost died as a child and went on to have this healthy baby was a miracle that we could all celebrate.”

When physicians accept gratitude from patients, they are reminded of the positive impact they are making. This feeling can help them to become better caregivers and give renewed purpose, resulting in physician healing.

“Gratitude helps physicians reconnect with why they went into the field,” said Mark McCampbell. “They’re driven by volume and EMRs, and stressors that take time away from moments with patients. Gratitude could be the cure for physician burnout. It can also help the healthcare organization through increasing physician, caregiver and patient engagement scores.”

Gratitude is good for your healthcare organization

When gratitude helps patients and physicians to heal, that promotes healing within health systems. Clinicians are happier and providing better quality of care. Patients are benefiting from enhanced care. And it becomes a grateful environment, with all the associated benefits.

It is powerful to think that a culture of gratitude can help to create a healthier work environment.

Gratitude and healing might seem so simple. Something so easy for all your staff to accept and embrace. However, all too often when a patient thanks a physician for a lifesaving event they respond with “But I’m just doing my job.” While that is true with that one statement the patient has now had their gratitude inadvertently rejected. Ideally the response is a thank you that leads to a conversation about how the patient may further express gratitude in a way that they chose. Just that small change helps the patient feel complete, allowing them to express their gratitude, and continue in the healing journey.

Explore additional resources around these topics on the Blackbaud Healthcare Resource Hub. Then, lock in your ticket to bbcon 2020 in Seattle now with discounted super early bird rates!

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