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The Importance of Emotional Intelligence for Healthcare Staff

This post is taken from a recent podcast recording with Bryan Warren, the Director of Healthcare Solutions at Select International, a HealthStream partner that helps organizations identify the necessary behavioral competencies of successful employees.

The concept of emotional intelligence is really important in healthcare. How did we figure that out? Early on in our work in healthcare, like anybody in our field, we focused on compassion and empathy with nurses. It just makes sense that you would want caregivers who are high in empathy and compassion, but we found out that that particular attribute was not necessarily as predictive of performance and success as we had hoped. Then, some more research came up with the concept that it’s more important that they have a high level of emotional intelligence.

If you imagine a nurse who has a high level of empathy, at their core they really care about the patient; but, if they don’t have a high level of emotional intelligence, which includes compassion, but also social and self-awareness, they can’t pick up on the patient’s needs or the family’s needs. While they might care, that compassion isn’t of much use to them if they don’t know how to use it. As a result we have changed the measurement in some of our behavioral assessments.

Measuring Emotional Intelligence

As opposed to just measuring compassion, we now measure emotional intelligence, which has several sub-constructs in there, including empathy, and we found that that behavioral skill is more predictive of performance. There’s also a link to patient safety. If you think about patient safety, we’ve learned from other industries that there are some very particular behavioral attributes that predict whether someone is more likely to follow procedures every time—concepts like conscientiousness, attention to detail, locus of control, etc.

Emotional Intelligence Connects to Patient Safety

Those are behavioral personality attributes that come into play when we’re thinking about someone who will follow processes and procedures every time. If you think about universal precautions, in other industries they would never deviate from something like that. Other industries think if that’s the rule, put the hard head on, put your hand on the rail. They do it every time. It’s not uncommon, and I think we’ve all seen this, for even staff at the hospital to take shortcuts or ignore universal precautions if they’re only going to be in the room for a moment. We can’t have that if we really want to have a true patient-safety culture. Again, we come back to those very specific behavioral competencies. Hire people to those, and enforce those and train to them as well.

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