Emotional Intelligence Impacts Hospitals’ Bottom Lines and Patient Satisfaction

Anne Bruce

Anne Bruce

Author and Leadership Consultant

Published February 05, 2015

Welcome to Mindfulness in Medicine, an ongoing column by best-selling author Anne Bruce designed to cultivate leadership and collaborative relationships among hospital leaders, nurses, providers and ancillary staff. Mindfulness is a powerful leadership tool that enhances emotional intelligence in medicine. It is a tool that, when practiced, can help us develop and implement relational coaching skills and illuminate various ways to improve hospital operations and cross-departmental performance. Mindfulness also improves our capacity for decision-making and participatory medicine, all while enhancing our own health and well-being. Your comments and insights on these postings are greatly valued.

These days, it seems preparing for medical school requires more than long hours in the o-chem lab or advanced microbiology seminars.

This year, for the first time, the medical college admissions test (MCAT) will include questions that focus on the psychological, social and biological foundations of human behavior. According to Darrell G. Kirch, MD, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC):

“Being a good doctor is about more than scientific knowledge. It also requires an understanding of people.”

The decision to assess aspiring medical students' behavioral science knowledge underscores a growing need in the healthcare field. As our industry strives to become more patient-centered, both employers and patients are seeking out providers whose emotional intelligence (EI) matches their training and clinical knowledge.


Emotional intelligence is a general assessment of a person’s abilities to control emotion and to sense, understand and respond (not react) to others’ emotions while managing complex people and relationships. Such behavior generally translates into better decision-making, richer relationships and higher long-term job satisfaction.

Just as some people are born with high IQs, some are naturally empathic. And a lucky few have a generous dose of both.

If you're not exactly gifted in the EI department, never fear: it's possible to build one's EI "muscles" through mindful attention and practice. For example, we can become more empathic toward others by becoming more aware of our own feelings and emotional triggers.

Given that organizations of all kinds thrive on teamwork and service excellence, it's no wonder that the majority of managers factor EI into their hiring and promotion decisions. In response to a 2011 CareerBuilder survey, hiring managers in a variety of fields provided the following justifications for emphasizing EI over IQ:
  • Employees [with high EI] are more likely to stay calm under pressure
  • Employees know how to resolve conflict effectively
  • Employees are empathetic to their team members and react accordingly
  • Employees lead by example
  • Employees tend to make more thoughtful business decisions

Emotional Intelligence — A Requirement for Physicians and Other Healthcare Professionals

Is the mindful practice of emotional intelligence (EI) becoming a new requirement for physicians and healthcare teams in general? It appears so. Premed students are filling classes offered in social sciences, psychology, and ethics. In fact, the preview guide to the new MCAT touts these subjects as “the building blocks medical students need in order to learn about how cognitive and perceptual processes influence their understanding of health and illness.”

EI is also fundamental to a number of factors that impact healthcare providers’ bottom lines and are increasingly valuable to healthcare administrators:
  • Patient satisfaction surveys
  • Interprofessional teamwork
  • Clinical integration
  • Risk reduction
  • Transitions of care
  • Physician leadership and alignment with hospital and health system goals
  • Transparency
  • Openness to change
  • Reputation (including prestigious rankings like U.S. News & World Report)
During a webinar hosted by Becker’s Hospital Review, experts from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and others discussed the role of EI in hospitals’ care delivery, clinical outcomes and finances. Facilitators Bryan Warren, manager of healthcare solutions at Select International; Ted Kinney, PhD, consulting manager/director of research and development with Select International; and Michael Anderson, vice president of human resources within the Physician Services Division of UPMC, discussed at length the need for deeper appreciation of human behaviors in medicine.

According to Warren:

“There’s a strong body of research showing emotional intelligence isn’t just nice to have. It has a real effect on patient outcomes.”

How “Deep Listening” Plays a Role

We know that doctors as a group are extremely bright people. But when it comes to EI, they're as variable as the rest of us. We all know exceptional physicians whose empathy and caring attitude earn the respect of patients. And unfortunately, physicians' lapses in listening skills, communication or cultural competency sometimes lead to tragedy.

Studies over the years by JAMA, Annals of Internal Medicine and others have found that healthcare professionals who show empathy and take mindful time to read people are more successful at treating patients in general. The practice of “deep listening” plays a significant role. The average patient comes to a doctor with about four key questions, but many patients complain that they only get to ask one or two before they are cut off mid-sentence — with the first interruption occurring within about 18 to 20 seconds. So having a provider who listens is a great satisfier — not to mention potentially safer and more effective.

So, doctors may ask, what about the time constraints of the busy healthcare environment? Well, evidence suggests a little extra time with patients goes a long way. For example, a team led by Dr. Wendy Levinson found that primary care doctors who spent just three extra minutes on average per patient were significantly less likely to have a history of malpractice suits. (Which, as anyone who has been sued can attest, suck up a lot more than three minutes of a physician's time.)

Emotion Is a Sign of Strength

As an author and trainer with a strong professional interest in EI, I applaud medical schools, hospitals and medical practitioners who acknowledge the importance of mindful emotional intelligence in medicine. Contrary to popular belief, EI is not a sign of being weak or soft. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s a sign of being human. As humans, we are set apart from fungi and plants by our beating hearts, air-filled lungs and the ability to feel deeply and express emotion.

So celebrate your emotional intelligence. Smile when you deliver a healthy baby or remove a deadly cancer. Feel sad when you witness the pain and suffering of others. Use EI to be in rapport with your patients and read their faces. In that moment, it may mean very little. Or then again, it may mean everything.

Anne Bruce has provided training and performance coaching for Vituity. She also serves as MBSI's Employee Development Coach and Leadership Facilitator. Anne is a bestselling author with more than 20 books published by McGraw-Hill Publishing, New York. She considers her award-winning life-coaching book, Discover True North: A 4-Week Approach to Ignite Passion and Activate Potential (McGraw-Hill Publishing) to be one of her most "mindful" books to date. She also leads a popular Discover True North Expedition group on LinkedIn. Anne can be reached at 214-507-8242 or by writing to her at

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