Do you really understand what a patient is going through?

The world is filled with "live a day in my shoes" stories. Think Trading Places and Undercover Boss.

The latest is Ron Shaich, CEO & Founder of Panera Bread, who spent a week living on "food stamps."

Ron Shaich, CEO & Founder of Panera Bread

Ron Shaich, CEO & Founder of Panera Bread

Shaich took the "SNAP Challenge." He was given just $4.50 a day for food and drink. That's what the average beneficiary gets from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the food stamp program).

One hungry week later, Shaich said in a CNN.com opinion piece:

I really thought I understood the scope of the problem. But let me tell you something — I had no clue.

These are valuable lessons, especially for the "haves." Shaich noted that "merely observing someone else's plight does not hold a candle to consciously altering your habits to better understand what it might be like to live someone else's life."

Hunger is a critical issue. Shaich's SNAP Challenge helps shine a little more light on it.

What about health care?

Empathy is paramount in health care. But it's not as easy to replicate the hunger challenge — nobody is suggesting caregivers contract a disease to understand what it feels like to be a patient.

We know that when caregivers become patients, they quickly learn what works and what doesn't. They learn about barriers to care and how communication breakdowns can frustrate, demoralize and even push patients to retreat from care.

There are some great efforts underway to better understand the patient experience and, in some cases, re-shape it truly to be patient-centric. 

Cleveland Clinic's groundbreaking film helps frame the issue — and the fact that it has been viewed more than 1 million times is a testament to its powerful message.

Now let's bring more patient and family voices into our hospital board rooms, leadership seminars and care meetings. 

Because the patient's voice should always be loudest.