I had the opportunity to recently sit down on a panel led by Robert McDonald, the cabinet secretary for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He is a very impressive person – former head of Procter and Gamble. He is a West Point graduate who answered the call from the country to lead the VA and help other veterans. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito and Congressman Evan Jenkins hosted the conversation at the Huntington VA Medical Center.

During the conversation, we began to talk about applying design thinking principles from industry to create better experiences for customers. Secretary McDonald is actively trying to apply this to VA patient’s experiences.

This experience intersected with a visit to one of several West Virginia housing locations of National Church Residences, a faith-based group that provides support and housing for vulnerable populations, including the homeless and aged. We had a conversation with Dr. Joshua Dower, a palliative medicine specialist – a doctor who works primarily with patients whose life is near its end. In these conversations we focused on learnings shared by Dr. Atul Gawande, Harvard surgeon, in his book Being Mortal.

In his book, Gawande reflected on his journey with his father, a urologist in Athens, Ohio, not far from Huntington. He traced his father’s path from the diagnosis of cancer to his death. Gawande transitioned from looking at palliative medicine and hospice as substitutes for treatment to important therapeutic options that remove pain and suffering.

These are important and underutilized tools in patient care.

Dr. Dower said that a critical difference between hospitals and hospice is hospitality.

I would offer that another key ingredient to caring for people is caring about them: real empathy and human connection.

Dr. Francis Peabody taught us this nearly 90 years ago:

Time, sympathy and understanding must be lavishly dispensed, but the reward is to be found in that personal bond which forms the greatest satisfaction of the practice of medicine. One of the essential qualities of the clinician is interest in humanity, for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.

What a great description and profound insight. The secret to better healthcare may be hospitality and empathy.

That is what families do for others and that is the foundation of community.

I think that may be the center of how we can help healing in others –empathy and hospitality.

Let's figure out together how we enhance hospitality and empathy for others – working with families and individuals to be inclusive, welcoming, reducing fear, pain and suffering. Together as partners, from wellness to acute medical care to palliative medicine to hospice.

I believe this will make all the difference.

Let’s go first!