The Value of Kindness in Healthcare

Gary Greensweig, DO, Dignity Health
Gary Greensweig, DO, Dignity Health
Gary Greensweig, DO, Dignity Health

In all of the jillions of articles I have read and presentations I have attended on patient engagement, I do not believe I have ever heard the word “kindness” mentioned.


A friend sent me a link to an article in Hospital and Health Networks (H&HN) titled “Recognizing the Value of Kindness in Health Care.  It was written by Gary Greensweig, D.O., the chief physician executive of Dignity Health in San Francisco.

A Survey on Kindness

In the article, Dr. Greensweig describes the results of a survey commissioned by Dignity Health from Wakefield Research.  The findings are interesting:

  • 87% of Americans feel that kind treatment by a physician is more important than other key considerations in choosing a health care provider.
  • 64% have experienced unkind behavior in a health care setting including failure to connect on a personal level (38%), staff rudeness (36%) and poor listening skills (35%)
  • ~75% of survey respondents indicated they would be willing to pay more to visit health care providers that practiced kindness
  • 88% said they would be willing to travel farther to receive kinder care

Patient engagement, patient empowerment, but not kindness

In all of the jillions of articles I have read and presentations I have attended on patient engagement, I do not believe I have ever heard the word “kindness” mentioned.  The experts talk about improving communication primarily by using HIT.  They talk about pushing informatino to patients and caregivers (again, using technology to facilitate the “conversation”) so that they are better educated, and therefore engaged, in self-managing their conditions.  They demo platforms and apps that allow video visits with physicians although often these docs are not the patient’s personal physician.

Some talk of empowering patients as a way to engage them.  But at what cost? My own PCP recently told me about one of her patients, definitely an e-patient, who lambasted her when she entered the finding of microalbuminuria in her electronic health record.  Why?  Because she (the patient) had worked very hard to manage her diabetes and she didn’t want her doctor degrading her otherwise pristine medical record.  Attempts to explain that documentation of this finding would help her medical team provide better care were to no avail.  The patient left angry – the physician felt abused.  Kindness in healthcare has to go two ways.

Dignity Health and Kindness

Dignity Health is going beyond the survey and writing articles.  According to Greensweig, they are determined to “practice human kindness every day throughout Dignity Health – including the processes and policies that strengthen the human connection among [their] doctors, nurses, caregivers and patients so that everyone who becomes part of our community feels welcomed, safe, comfortable, listened to and respected.”  Now that is an admirable goal!  And, the results of the Wakefield survey suggest if is not only nice, it is also good business.

Addendum:  Dignity Health has started a campaign to propagate human kindness.  Take a look at the “Hello Humankindness” website to get the flavor of what they are up to.


  1. Great article on a key concept. Thanks for posting it.

    You are using the word “Kindness” when I see what you are talking about as “presence”. Here’s what I mean.

    All physicians want to serve and make a positive difference in their patient’s lives. Unfortunately a modern “healthcare” environment – an outpatient clinic or hospital – is not designed to support the meaningful human interactions that are the essence of serving the patient. In fact, most healthcare organizations unconsciously put multiple barriers between the physician and their ability to make an authentic connection with the patient.

    Instead, the patient gets a distracted, multitasking, overwhelmed, burned out physician — who they experience as not interacting on a personal level or not being a good listener.

    It is not about kindness IMHO. This is about
    1) Getting “the system” out of the way of a meaningful patient interaction
    2) Lowering the stress and crushing workloads on the people providing care – building a provider friendly work environment
    3) Valuing the health and happiness of the workers in the system
    4) Teaching all front line providers the mindfulness skills to become present with the patient in this golden moments of connection … no matter what is going on around them at the time

    Build a system that supports the docs being present with the patient. Teach the docs how to breathe, release and become present. And the patient will see that as what you are labeling “kindness”. These tools are things I teach to burned out doctors and physician leaders every day.

    Dike Drummond MD

  2. I work for RKF Medical and we try very hard to be kind and not get in a hurry when our patients call. Being sick or having health issues is scary enough without having to deal with rude people.

  3. Being present is one thing, but not all drs are kind. Many discrimina, especially to females, esp on govt insurance. Innacurate records femean, make up , falsify, libel, and unkindly ruin future ease and full acces. And if somepne comes in for physical, they do not want drs in their head disrespecting boundaries and judging them when ill. If they were not at the hospital, they.would be at home, not.anywhere to be JUDGED. Many females are not having stroke, mini strokes, and heart attacks accessed, due to being biased. Failure to dx has gotten sadisticly ridiculous, leading to unec sufferi, worsened conditions, and impacts and burdens. Listen to why patient came in, and put yourselves in their shoes.