Empathic Inquiry

Empathic Inquiry: A Patient-Centered Approach to Social Determinants of Health Screening

Together, our mission of pursuing health equity for all has sharpened our focus on thinking deeply and broadly about how to address the fundamental drivers of health in the communities we serve.

OPCA and the community health centers of Oregon have been on the forefront of the national movement to transform safety net primary care payment and care delivery for years. At the heart of this quest is great concern for humans and human welfare, and that same concern is the heart of this initiative.

Thanks to the mission commitment, willingness to collaborate and experiment, and the supportive partners and policy environment in Oregon, Oregon health centers are national leaders in screening and responding to social determinants of health risk factors. As we expand and systematize our approach to screening for social determinants of health, it is critical that we ask potentially sensitive questions in a deeply respectful, empathic and trauma-informed way.

Program Goals:

The purpose of the Empathic Inquiry Learning Collaborative is to enhance capacity for patient-centered social determinants of health screening at health centers by building and testing an approach that is deeply respectful of both patients and staff, facilitates partnership and engagement, and supports our efforts to transform our health system and create better experience for care teams and patients.

We are calling our approach Empathic Inquiry because these words describe how we hope to relate to patients, from a place of non-judgmental curiosity. Empathic Inquiry is based in motivational interviewing and trauma-informed care and is intended to facilitate collaboration and emotional support for both patients and clinical staff through the social determinants of health interviewing process, as well as evoke patient priorities relating to social determinants of health needs for integration into subsequent care planning and delivery processes.

Program Details

The OPCA Empathic Inquiry Learning Collaborative runs from January-August 2018, and includes the following activities:

  • Two one-hour program launch webinars on January 30 and February 6 to create clarity about program expectations, explore and agree upon measurement plans, and review activities for organizational leaders and training participants.
  • Two-day face-to-face Empathic Inquiry workshop in Portland on February 15-16 that will provide time to learn and practice key concepts and skills. The training will be interactive and engaging, with an emphasis on drawing out the wisdom and expertise of the people in the room.
  • Monthly Community of Practice webinars from early March through early July to practice skills, share stories and experiences and support each other in implementation.
  • One-day face-to-face follow up workshop in Portland at the end of July to sharpen skills, share lessons learned, create sustainability plans and provide input for refining the curriculum
  • Collect and share data on participant experience of training and organizational, participant and patient-level outcomes to evaluators.
  • Optional: Technical Assistance site visits with Ariel and Carly from OPCA to support health centers with implementation efforts, including troubleshooting workflows, providing overview presentations to staff or discussing strategic planning, use of data, or connections to other transformation or advocacy efforts

Community health center participants commit to the following:

  • Lead organizational adoption by identifying an operational and/or clinical champion to nominate and support the training participants in implementing an Empathic Inquiry approach to social determinants of health screening.
  • Support two staff to receive Empathic Inquiry training and attend all learning collaborative activities, including both face-to-face trainings and webinars. Participants can be nominated from any role who will be conducting social determinants of health screening or follow up conversations with patients. Behavioral health clinicians likely already possess the empathic communication skills that will be the focus of the workshop and are better suited to attend as clinical champions than participants.
  • Contribute to evaluation of the program by participating in organizational, participant and patient-level data collection efforts.

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This project is supported by Kaiser Permanente Northwest Community Benefit.

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