The Minimization of Compassion

The Three Factors of a Great Healthcare Experience

I recently heard an astute co-worker say that great healthcare experiences at Mayo come down to 3 things: brilliance, humility and compassion.  I was instantly struck by how accurate, yet simple, of an equation this was.

When done well, here’s what these 3 look like:


The accurate and reliable medical diagnosis and treatment that a healthcare organization can provide.  At Mayo, this is particularly pervasive as we have some of the world’s leading physicians under our roof.


Every patient is treated with respect and as an equal, no matter how brilliant the physician may be. This humility extends throughout Mayo as an organization as well.


Every patient’s struggle and hardship is acknowledged. Patients are listened to and supported through their trials of fear and doubt.

Brilliance Bias

As I think about this simple framework, what particularly amazes me is how much we have a tendency to focus on the brilliance factor over the other two when we design healthcare products and services.

This bias seems particularly noticeable when looking at medical information, patient education, digital products, and medical devices. These products and services are filled to the brim with statistics, symptom checkers, and other data driven interactions with a matter-of-fact tone behind their information and messaging that is sterile, crisp and concise.

Compassion in Crisis

Unfortunately, many healthcare interactions are a moment of crisis for the people experiencing them and this data-rich, clinically-toned, approach does little to provide them the comfort they desperately seek. I’ve felt saddened numerous times in user research sessions where I’ve seen people cry simply recounting the terror they felt when given a diagnosis and I felt even worse when they recounted how the tone, information, and data our products conveyed made the situation worse.

Take, for example, the act of measuring one’s blood sugar. We provide many tools and techniques to help with this laborious task – from reminders, to trackers, etc. Yet, as laborious as it may be, another reason why diabetics I’ve spoken with hate taking their blood sugar is that it is a reminder to them of what they see as a personal failure. It is an emotional issue for them and it is one that goes largely unaddressed.

The success of great healthcare experiences is NOT solely within their brilliance. Brilliance is an expectation that only helps people with their physical and cognitive needs. Compassion, on the other hand, is a differentiator that speaks to people’s emotional needs. The best physicians, coaches, and other healthcare professionals know how to relate to their patients in a compassionate way that helps them with their profound, and volatile, emotions and it is those interactions that people remember the most.