Caring About Someone Versus Caring for Someone
It’s an all-too-common tale in our industry: We provide care for our patients. But we stop caring about them. Instead of treating them like vulnerable individuals with thoughts and feelings, we start seeing them as numbers and quotas.
It’s time to change this trend and to start treating our patients with a softer touch. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also positively impacts health outcomes.
Such a change can be fostered by how employers support health care practitioners on the quest to be more empathetic.
How Empathetic Care Improves Patient Health
According to the International Journal of Caring Sciences, empathy is “the capacity to share and understand another’s state of mind or emotion”. Furthermore, it’s a powerful communication skill that deepens understanding.
With empathy, we add another layer to our relationship with patients because we’re standing in their shoes, which leads to a litany of benefits.
A 2014 analysis published in the online journal PLOS One examined 13 clinical studies where doctors would either provide more empathetic care or stick with their standard methods. The results were heavily in favor of patient-focused care, which had a positive impact on hard health outcomes. Conditions such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, asthma, pulmonary infections, and osteoarthritis pain saw drastic improvement.
There’s further proof of the benefits of compassion in a book called Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference, written by physician-scientist team Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli.
Trzeciak and Mazzarelli’s work shows that with compassionate care, the chances of diabetes patients having optimal blood-sugar control are 80% higher and the risk of complication is 41% lower.
They also cite that patients undergoing surgery react positively after supportive interactions with doctors and nurses. There’s a better achievement of sedation and a decrease in the need for opiate medication following surgery. Plus, these patients also spend less time in the hospital after an operation.
In many cases, patients fear their doctors and withhold information that could, in one way or another, save their lives. This problem can be attributed to poor bedside manner.
When we take patients’ feelings into consideration, they won’t hesitate to share crucial information and pose difficult questions. They’ll also have more respect for our recommendations, which can lead to added health benefits. Specifically, when patients feel their doctor cares, it’s been proven that they’re more likely to take medicine.
How Health Care Companies Can Help Practitioners
Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore did research that showed doctors in training weren’t adhering to the basics of empathy. Namely, they failed to sit down with patients and illustrate their role in a patient’s health care treatment. Even worse? They didn’t bother to introduce themselves.
So, while there may be a perception that more experienced doctors lose their personable approach over time, the problem seems to stem from the learning stages.
While improving bedside manner seems like common sense, doctors lack the necessary support for effective communication with patients. For this reason, Helen Riess of Harvard Medical School started an e-learning Empathetics training program at Massachusetts General Hospital based on her research on empathy and health outcomes.
Programs of this nature aren’t particularly common. However, given that patient satisfaction is being used to determine things like Medicare reimbursement rates, there may be motivation for health care companies to implement these programs on a bigger scale.
Compassion is Good for Doctors
It may seem like compassion for patients could come with its own list of problems. Overinvesting in health outcomes seems like a guaranteed pathway to overcommitting and making mistakes.
However, it’s quite the opposite. A lack of compassion or depersonalization can lead to mistakes, particularly with surgeons.
A Mayo Clinic study of 7,905 United States surgeons showed that most surgeons committing errors displayed the highest levels of depersonalization. The primary reason for these errors was a lapse in clinical judgment.
It’s Time to Start Prioritizing Care and Compassion
We need to remind ourselves as health care professionals that people aren’t numbers and quotas.
It’s time we looked at ourselves in the mirror and considered how we can treat our patients better as people. It’s not about being kind for the sake of novelty. The overall health of patients hangs in the balance.
But prioritizing compassion starts from the top, meaning that it’s time for health care companies to provide the support their employees need to be more caring to patients.
Doctors who are kind have healthier patients who heal faster, according to new book. (2019, April 29). From The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2019/04/29/doctors-who-show-compassion-have-healthier-patients-who-heal-faster-according-new-book/?utm_term=.41652097aca0
Why Nice Doctors Are Better Doctors. (2015, April 20). From US News: