I subscribe to two Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Digest (newsletter), one on quality and equality and the other on human capital. It wasn’t too long ago that they highlighted my recent opinion piece in the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin (which had 3 great, one very provocative comments). So I think these are good reads.
This week I came across an article that I want to share, it’s assertion is that compassion is missing in healthcare. Stony Brook Medical School has gone so far as to put teaching compassionate care as part of their mission.
Compassion has joined healthcare costs, results, and the avoidance of errors, as a crisis of confidence in our healthcare system. Regulations, technology, protocols, third party payers, and myriads of other interferers with the doctor-patient relationship may be at work, but nonetheless, it is a valid question.
But can we teach compassion? Can we measure compassion? Is there any use in having a compassion index? (Yes, there is one being developed.) The theory is if we measure it, we can change behavior. I don’t buy it.
The emotional connection to a patient comes from something that is learned in childhood, that other people’s feelings matter. That when we care about other people, we are better ourselves. Learned responses to cues for the need for compassion, will come out hollow.
According to the Schwartz Center, compassionate care is defined by the following four essential characteristics:
- 1. Empathy, emotional support, and a desire to relieve a patient’s distress and suffering
2. Effective communication at all stages of a patient’s illness and treatment
3. Respecting patients’ and families’ desires to participate in making health care decisions
4. Knowing and relating to the patient as a whole person, not just a disease.
I think that being cared for and cared about are important outcomes for my patients. I don’t know if these feelings are direct effects of how I communicate “compassion.” I don’t know how to find out if they feel cared for and cared about. Do you have any good ways to discern if I (or any other physician) is successful in providing enough compassion?