The Importance of Soft Skills in Healthcare

The Importance of Soft Skills in Healthcare

October 28, 2021
October 28, 2021

All industries have different required skill sets. The broad categories are hard and soft skills. In healthcare, the difference between hard and soft skills is quite pronounced and historically, the emphasis has been on developing the hard or clinical skills, but the soft skills are the skills most observable by patients and families. Most patients and family members are unable to truly assess a provider's hard or clinical skills so it will be their perceptions of the strength of these soft skills that will drive how they rate their healthcare experiences. Soft skills can also be an essential element of a great workplace.

Hard and Soft Skills Defined

First off, both skills sets are important. In healthcare, there is an appropriate level of focus on hard skills. Competency in these skills is regularly assessed and most providers would have little difficulty defining those skills and describing what competency looks like.

One difference between the two skill sets is the means by which they are acquired. Hard skills in healthcare, as in many industries, are acquired through education. These skills are fairly easy to define and measure and competency in these skills is regularly assessed. The list of hard skills in healthcare is lengthy and can vary by care setting. Skills such as understanding anatomy and physiology, taking vital signs, administering medications, providing wound care, starting IVs and performing high-quality CPR would be considered essential hard skills for nurses. For medical assistants and certified nursing assistants (CNAs), the list might include taking accurate vital signs, following proper infection control procedures and recording patient vitals.

Soft skills can be a bit more slippery to define and measure but no less essential in healthcare. They are the skills providers need to communicate, lead and get along effectively in the workplace. Soft skills might include:

  • Good communication skills – with both patients, families and team members. Clear and honest communication between team members is essential to safety, clinical efficiency and crucial to patients and families who frequently feel overwhelmed when faced with an illness or hospitalization.
  • Collaboration – inter-disciplinary communication and collaboration are also essential to good clinical outcomes and a lack of collaboration can be very apparent to patients and family members.
  • Compassion – many things that might seem routine to healthcare providers are anything but for patients and family members. Taking time to see things from their point of view can make providers more compassionate, empathetic and change how they communicate with patients.
  • Critical Thinking – synthesizing large amounts of information in order to make the best decisions in a stressful and fast-paced environment is essential to patient care.
  • Time Management – an essential soft skill in virtually every care setting. Having a plan to complete all tasks in a fast-paced environment is essential for all providers.
  • Ethical Behavior – healthcare providers have access to the most personal information about their patients. Provider's ethics need to be beyond reproach.
  • Strong Work Ethic – the fast-paced, demanding nature of healthcare demands a strong work ethic.
  • Business and Leadership Skills – focusing on the preparation of future healthcare leaders is important and frequently overlooked.

Why Soft Skills Matter

Soft skills can impact virtually every aspect of how a patient or family member might evaluate their healthcare encounter – something that matters in the age of value-based purchasing and the ever-increasing number of Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) surveys. Patient perceptions of communication, compassion and respect are routinely addressed in these surveys.

Those same soft skills make a difference in the workplace as well. Failures in communication, critical thinking and time management can make a unit or department a difficult place in which to provide healthcare. These are also the kinds of skills that can impact outcomes and productivity and will certainly have an impact on patients perceptions of their experience as well as employees' perceptions of their workplace.  

Focusing on Soft Skills

Establishing the appropriate level of focus on soft skills can be difficult, but as HealthStream Product Manager, Susan Gurzynski-Wells puts it, "Sometimes during especially hectic times, we can forget the importance of soft skills, when in reality this is the time when soft skills are most beneficial. Soft skills enhance communication and strengthen collaboration within and across teams, as well as provide a welcoming, efficient staff for our most important audience, our patients."

Building and improving the soft skills needed in healthcare is easier when you have the right tools. Online tools help you assess where employees are right now and provide the data to help you prioritize training and offer the kinds of resources that build efficiency and productivity, change patient perceptions of their experience and prepares the next generation of healthcare leaders.  Choose a solution that will address these soft skills as well as reduce IT costs.