We Need Both Logic & Emotional Intelligence in Health Care


A Tribute to Leonard Nimoy from our friend Joseph Babaian @joebabaian


The conflict felt when choosing what can be done, what must be done, and what should be done in healthcare ever present. We regularly find ourselves in highly emotional situations dealing with life and death being managed by highly-skilled healthcare workers balancing science and logic with the human needs of the patients. How are decisions made? We should be asking “How are the right decisions made?”

Recently, the world lost the most amazing actor, director, poet, singer, and photographer – of course I’m talking about Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek’s Spock to the many scientists, doctors, astronauts, and dreamers inspired by his adventures on the screen and in film. With his passing in mind, let’s consider the ways we balance logic and science with emotional intelligence and discover how to integrate these aptitudes – finding they are not mutually exclusive in the process.

Spock was always logical, but often showed depth of emotional competence that belied the role. In Leonard’s last tweet (wow, how profound an epitaph is that? Social media as a personal final word on one’s life!), he reminds us of the transitory nature of life and how we should frame things.



In this great article “Connecting with Patients: The Basic Ingredient of Care,” written by Colette Herrick, published on the Six Seconds website, Colette discusses the reality of diminishing time for the patient provider relationship.

The financial reality of modern healthcare creates a relentless pressure to reach a swift diagnosis and treatment plan, to get the billing codes captured, and to move on to the next patient. These objectives are not conducive to empathy.

In her experience seeing the struggle to find enough time to apply the nuts and bolts of medicine, many professionals have difficulty using empathy and emotion in their encounters and decision making.

When I raise this topic … there are typically two objections: “I don’t have time”; and, when they are really being honest: “I don’t know how.”

With the pressures of applying the medical science we’ve been taught, using the art we’ve learned along the way, and facing the administrative burdens that go with the territory, we can find time to learn and effectively apply Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to our work. Colette explains:

The reason real empathy takes no extra time is that true empathy is not about an action it’s about a feeling.

How do we get there? How to we learn Emotional Intelligence and synchronize that with our skills, our science, and our time pressures? One of the keys is to know that using EQ results in real, positive changes for the patients and clinical outcomes. A study of diabetic patients in Parma, Italy concludes:

[The] results suggest that physician empathy is significantly associated with clinical outcome for patients with diabetes mellitus and should be considered an important component of clinical competence.

Great, so we are all convinced that we should be using, learning, and growing our EQ skills. How is that done? The first step is reviewing the tools and techniques of other respected professionals. A great follow-up is a blog by Bernadette Keefe MD @nxtstop1 about “Slow Medicine” and the critical importance it holds in healthcare. Please review her wonderful article if you haven’t had the opportunity.


Preston Ni discusses six essentials for increasing your emotional intelligence in Psychology Today. In “How to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence ― 6 Essentials,” he lists:

  • The Ability to Reduce Negative Emotions
  • The Ability to Stay Cool and Manage Stress
  • The Ability to Be Assertive and Express Difficult Emotions When Necessary
  • The Ability to Stay Proactive, Not Reactive in the Face of a Difficult Person
  • The Ability to Bounce Back from Adversity
  • The Ability to Express Intimate Emotions in Close, Personal Relationships

Many resources for learning, using, and understanding EQ are included at end of this article. Please take a look and review them – we already know the value you’ll gain.


I’ll leave you with one final quote from Leonard Nimoy:

Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.


Let’s work to engage and answer these questions together and put the solutions into practice!


Selected Resources:

“Four ways to strengthen emotional intelligence” The Irish Times, February 5, 2015 http://www.irishtimes.com/business/work/four-ways-to-strengthen-emotional-intelligence-1.2092802 Accessed February 28, 2015.

“Healthcare Emotional Intelligence: Its Role in Patient Outcomes and Organizational Success” Bryan Warren, Becker’s Hospital Review, May 1, 2013. http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/healthcare-emotional-intelligence-its-role-in-patient-outcomes-and-organizational-success.html Accessed February 28, 2015.

“Become a better healthcare leader with emotional intelligence” MGMA In PracticeBlog, August 13, 2009. http://www.mgma.com/blog/become-a-better-healthcare-leader-with-emotional-intelligence Accessed February 28. 2015.

“Connecting with Patients: The Basic Ingredient of Care” Colette Herrick, Six Seconds, March 6, 2013. http://www.6seconds.org/2013/03/06/empathy-patient-healthcare/ Accessed February 28, 2015.

“The relationship between physician empathy and disease complications: an empirical study of primary care physicians and their diabetic patients in Parma, Italy.” Del Canale, Louis DZ, Maio V, Wang X, Rossi G, Hojat M, Gonnella JS, PubMed, September 2012, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22836852Accessed February 27, 2015.

“How to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence ― 6 Essentials” Preston Ni, Psychology Today, Oct 5, 2014, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/communication-success/201410/how-increase-your-emotional-intelligence-6-essentials Accessed February 28, 2015.

”A Doctor’s Touch”, Abraham Verghese, TedGlobal, July 2011, http://www.ted.com/talks/abraham_verghese_a_doctor_s_touch?language=enAccessed February 28, 2015

“Slow Medicine – Not Can We Afford It, But How Can We Not?” Bernadette Keefe MD, #hcldr Blog, November 2, 2014, https://hcldr.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/slow-medicine/ Accessed February 27, 2015.

“Development of emotional intelligence in a team-based learning internal medicine clerkship.” Borges, Nicole J, Kirkham, Karen, Deardorff, Adam S, Moore, Jeremy A., Medical Teacher, October 2012, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23009257 Accessed February 28, 2015.

“Team-based learning: From educational theory to emotional intelligence.” Wilson-Delfosse, Amy L, Medical Teacher, October 2012, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22992022 Accessed March 1, 2015.

“Good to Great: Using 360-Degree Feedback to Improve Physician Emotional Intelligence.” Hammerly, Milton, Harmon, Larry, Schwaitzberg, Steven, Journal of Healthcare Management, Sept/Oct 2014, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25647955 Accessed February 2015.


Joeseph Babaian is an ardent supporter of modern 
healthcare initiatives that improve outcomes, 
change lives, and create opportunity, as well as
one of the moderators for the weekly Twitter chat
on Health Care Leadership, #HCLDR.



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