During these very trying COVID-19 times, while exploring a topic for this week’s Thinking Thursday’s TIPs, I kept telling myself, “Let’s redouble our efforts to show compassion and empathy for each other, now more than ever, during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
While doing my research I came across this book; “Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference,” by Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli.
The authors make a convincing case that you and I receive better care AND enjoy better outcomes from physicians who demonstrate kindness and have a warm and respectful demeanor. Their argument is straightforward; physicians that deliver good patient care together with a heavy dose of kindness produce better patient outcomes as compared to physicians that are more matter-of-fact and come across as stern or harsh. Considering the book is written by a physician-scientist team, you will find clear and convincing evidence for the healing power of compassion.
Being Kind Does Not Cost You Anything
Expressing kindness results in a longer and better quality of life.
According to Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli, both the patients that receive care delivered with kindness, and the health care professionals that deliver care with kindness, live longer and enjoy a healthier life than those that choose otherwise.
They go on to explain that when health care professionals show compassion, their patients enjoy faster recoveries and experience better outcomes. They also make a case that the health care provider that delivers care with compassion is less stressed and less likely to experience burn-out.
Being kind does not cost you anything; however, being unkind could cost you everything! One red-flag that your provider may not be as kind and compassionate as you’d like? Pay attention to how well they listen to you whenever you are describing your symptoms or illness. Does your doctor interrupt you in mid-sentence? If so, those providers should be avoided, according to the authors.
In a study titled, “Eliciting the Patient’s Agenda – Secondary Analysis of Recorded Clinical Encounters”, the study found the median amount of time before the patient was interrupted was just 11 seconds.
Three Best Practices
Below are three best practices that help establish a more compassionate approach.
1. Make it Personal
Relationships matter. Take the time to get to know a few personal details about each patient. Not only does it matter when considering treatment options, but it is also crucial for expressing compassion and empathy. This best practice can be, and should be implemented by both support staff and providers.
2. Use Positive Gestures
Expressing empathy and compassion includes the use of nonverbal cues and positive gestures such as open body language, listening, making eye contact, taking notes, or repeating what a patient says to confirm your understanding. Positive gestures demonstrate empathy and reaffirm that the patient’s concerns are being considered. It makes the patient feel important and respected.
3. Ask for Feedback
Providing patients the opportunity to share their thoughts is an important part of effective communication. Open-ended questions such as “What do you think?” or “How do you feel about that?” are effective ways to engage patients in an open discussion while demonstrating compassionate care.
Expressing empathy and compassion is not only the responsibility of the physician, it is also the responsibility of every member of the care team.
Now that I’m thinking about it, I would say every one of us have the responsibility to treat our fellow citizens with compassion and empathy. It does not just apply to healthcare; it applies to all of us whenever we encounter another member of the human race.
Demonstrating compassion and empathy work – especially now during the COVID -19 pandemic.
Let’s agree to show a little kindness!
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Jerry L. Stone