By Yin Nwe Ko
WHAT does it mean to advance humanism in healthcare? According to Arnold P Gold Foundation advancing humanism in healthcare is characterized as, “A respectful and compassionate relationship between physicians, members of the healthcare team, and their patients.” A recent article published on 26 January 2019, in Modern Healthcare talks about the importance of having all members of the healthcare team constantly educated regarding how to utilize patient-communication-best-practices to ensure the best outcomes. This title says it all, “Physician empathy a key driver of patient satisfaction”. This article points out that 65 per cent of patient satisfaction was attributed to physician empathy. Additional Gold Foundation studies have also recognized the impact empathy has on improving health outcomes and its significance in patient care.
Empathy is defined as, “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It is the capacity to put one’s self in another’s shoes and feel what that person is going through and share their emotions and feelings. It is the recognition and validation of a patient’s fear, anxiety, pain, and worry. It is the ability to understand patients’ feelings and facilitate a more accurate diagnosis and more caring treatment. Expressing patient empathy indeed advances humanism in healthcare – as a matter of fact — expressing empathy in healthcare is THE KEY INGREDIENT to enhancing the patient experience and patient encounter.
Both empathy and compassion in healthcare play vital roles in the patient experience and are key components of the physician-patient relationship. When a patient arrives to see their healthcare provider, the patient’s medical condition — whether it is a severe illness or injury, a chronic condition, or simply a routine check-up – will often manifest emotions such as anxiety, fear, and apprehension. Patients want to know they are receiving the very best care, and that is conveyed when their care team is empathetic and compassionate.
Empathy extends far beyond a patient’s medical history, signs, and symptoms. It is more than a clinical diagnosis and treatment. Empathy encompasses a connection and an understanding that includes the mind, body, and soul. Expressing empathy is highly effective and powerful, which builds patient trust, calms anxiety, and improves health outcomes. Research has shown empathy and compassion to be associated with better adherence to medications, decreased malpractice cases, fewer mistakes, and increased patient satisfaction. Expressing empathy, one patient at a time advances humanism in healthcare.
When I first watched the video (The link is below the article), I was reminded, and blown-away, by the notion that the smallest expressions of empathy make huge lasting impressions. Check out the Cleveland Clinic’s, Delos “Toby” Cosgrove, MD, President and CEO, as he and his team demonstrate some special moments that exemplify the power of empathy in healthcare. The video has become a viral sensation, with 4,437,714 views on YouTube, as of this writing. It may be viewed via the link below this article: -
In addition, have you ever sat in a hospital bed and had the assembled doctors talk about you as though you didn’t exist? Or a doctor comes up to your bed, looks at your chart, and walks off without saying a word? Or the GP never looks up from their computer screen when they talk to you? If so, then you’re not alone. Research into patients’ opinions of healthcare has shown that this is all too common, with around a quarter of patients reporting these kinds of experiences. This behaviour makes patients feel belittled and unvalued and is important because it gets to the very root of how patients evaluate the quality of care that they receive.
While doctors like to focus on treatment outcomes, this is not how the general public tends to assess whether or not their doctor is any good. Research from around the world has consistently shown that it doesn’t matter which country you live in or how your healthcare is delivered, most patients evaluate their experiences on how polite and empathetic the doctor was, not on the actual quality of medicine practised.
My mum, for example, recently started losing her sight. Understandably she was very worried. She went for an urgent appointment with an eye specialist at her local NHS (National Health Service in the UK) hospital. When I telephoned her that evening to see how it went, she replied: “Oh yes, it was wonderful. They were all so lovely and kind.” Could she now see? No. Had they been able to treat it? No. In fact, the clinic was running late and she’d had to wait for an hour to see the nurse, and three hours to see the consultant.
Now, from a medical perspective, the consultation clearly hadn’t been a success. While they’d ruled out emergency causes for her sight loss, they hadn’t really gotten to the bottom of the problem at all. She was now back at home, still unable to see properly and with no idea if she was going to go permanently blind. But that didn’t matter. What mattered to her was that a nurse had met her at the door and helped her to her seat. Someone had apologized when the clinic was overrunning and made all the patients wait for a cup of tea.
One of the nurses offered to get my mum a sandwich when lunch came. The consultant touched her knee and listened to her as she explained what had happened. They’d asked about how the loss of sight had impacted her life and the clinic nurse had asked to see photographs of my new nephew. A junior doctor had understood that the thing my mum was most worried about was that, as an avid reader, she wouldn’t be able to read a book again. My mum had been touched by her kind attempts to reassure her. She felt she had received good care simply because the doctors and nurses had listened to her.
Equally, how many times, when asking how things went at the doctor’s, have you heard the reply, “Oh, it was awful, he was really rude.” Not, “Oh, it was awful, he prescribed the wrong medication, or gave me the wrong treatment.” Patients don’t evaluate the actual medicine that’s practised; it’s the communication skills of the doctor that determine how they evaluate the care. This is important because if doctors listened to their patients, then overnight people’s experience of the NHS would improve. That means we can improve the NHS without spending a single penny.
Although it is right money can create almost all things, no one can deny patience, and empathy of medical men are indispensable.
1. Reader’s Digest UK Aug 2022
2. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=cDDWvj_q-o8