Would your business do better if your employees could view the world from your customers' perspective? Yes? Then put them there with empathy training. Acadian Ambulance and Air Med Services, in partnership with SAA Consultants, developed an eight-hour experiential training program to sensitize its 1,100 employees to the physical and emotional needs of patients.

The $80 million medical services and transport company, based in Lafayette, La., begins sessions with a video in which older patients describe what they did in their early 20s. Staff, whose average age is 24, see that the elderly are like themselves but at a different life stage. Then employees are asked to "become" the people they serve. Some wear ear plugs to impair hearing, smear petroleum jelly on eyeglasses to impair vision, wear splints on arms or legs to simulate physical limitations, pull socks over their hands to immobilize them, and so on. With these impairments, medics perform everyday tasks ordinarily done without conscious effort, such as eating lunch. Training ends with a dialogue on how the experience relates to work and to their personal lives. Many of the paramedics became sensitized to the patients' need for emotional autonomy, which can be provided by letting patients dress themselves or have input in scheduling appointments.

"The number of complimentary letters received from patients has increased since we began empathy training five years ago," says Tommy Duhon, senior vice president of human resources. "Employees have more empathy for elderly patients and an increased appreciation for human dignity that benefits all customers."

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing