Empathy in telehealth support services: How to cultivate the unteachable (part 1 of 2)

Telehealth visits are up an incredible 3,800% compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to McKinsey & Company. While great for business growth, this deluge also exposes where certain telehealth support providers are falling short on patient experience.

As value-based models of care continue to replace the outdated “transactional consultation” approach, meeting patient expectations increasingly requires empathetic service from consultation room to contact center. Now more than ever, your telehealth support providers and (their calling agents) are a vital link in the chain.

An empathy-driven approach isn’t only beneficial to customers (study by Catalyst):

61%

of employees with highly empathic senior leaders report “often” or “always” being innovative at work

31%

of employees with less empathic senior leaders report the same level of innovative thinking

But with the extent to which empathy can actually be taught still under debate, many business leaders are unsure how to tackle the problem. So in this two-part blog series, we’re going to outline two ways telehealth support providers can approach it:

1. How to screen for empathy during the hiring process.
2. How to inspire a culture of empathy across the organization.

Below, we focus on the former – but if you want jump to the “culture of empathy” post, click here.

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How to screen for empathy in interviews

The key to efficiently building empathy within your organization, is to hire people who already have an empathetic mindset and build on it. But since empathy doesn’t jump out on a resume, you have two main tools with which to screen your candidates: the questions you ask, and what you look for in the answers.

Below, we look at the best questions you can incorporate into your interview process:

Introspective questions

E.g: “Can you describe a time when someone acted in an empathetic way towards you? How did it make you feel?”

Why they work: They encourage candidates to reflect on times when they were the beneficiary of empathy. The direct mention of empathy allows you to assess the level to which they actually understand: what it is, how it differs from sympathy, and why/if it matters to them.

What to look for: How well they understand empathy as a concept and how to apply it. And if they can articulate tangible benefits on an empathetic approach.

Prioritization questions

E.g: “What do you think are the key factors in building a high-functioning team?”

Why they work: They allow you to gauge a candidate’s overall outlook. By not mentioning empathy, you can assess whether or not they’ll offer factors related to an empathy work culture, or not.

What to look for: Mentions of key terms like great communication, supportiveness,
healthy feedback culture, morale, employee engagement, and empowerment.

Conflict resolution questions

E.g: “If you and a colleague had differing opinions on a crucial decision, how would you approach finding a resolution?”

Why they work: They enable you to judge a candidate’s ability to see problems from another person’s perspective. And where the candidate sits on the scale of getting the job done vs. getting consensus.

What to look for: The extent to which they want to actively listen to and engage with a different perspective. Do they make an attempt to see that an alternative solution might bear fruit? Or do they spend most of their time trying to sell their idea to the other person?

Action-based questions

E.g: “Describe a time when you had to deliver difficult news. How did you approach it?”

Why they work: They give candidates the chance to provide a detailed account of empathy in action and give you an insight into their way of thinking.

What to look for: The nature of the situation they choose (as this can give you deeper insight into their mindset). How much emphasis they place on ensuring the emotional needs of the other person are met. If they describe themselves as a hero rather than someone who did a difficult job well. You should also pay attention to the reasoning behind their approach.

Pro tip: Across all the answers, assess how well the interviewee expresses the benefits of an empathetic approach, rather than of seeming empathetic. If you get the sense they would employ empathy to placate someone or tick-a-box, it’s unlikely they fully grasp its emotional and business value.

ACTION POINTS

  1. Use empathy-hunting interview questions: With the right collection of introspective, prioritization, conflict resolution, and action-based questions, you can uncover how developed your candidate’s sense of empathy is.
  2. Assess answers for real empathy: Look out for key empathy-boosting themes like communication, support, and willingness to see another’s perspective, to sort the empathy ‘box-tickers’ from the real deal.

But that’s just half the story. Once you’ve instilled a better empathy filter into your hiring process, you need to make sure your culture inspires continuous empathy development.

To see how, check out Part 2 of 2 in this Empathy series and get top strategies on how to develop empathic practices.

Or, to discover how empathy delivers value to you and your customers, visit our Healthcare Solutions page.

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