An Anxious America
Do you remember the first time you went to the grocery store after the initial outbreak of COVID-19? I do.
I walked in wearing my mask, armed with a can of disinfectant wipes and a bottle of hand sanitizer.
I was caught off guard by the large, intimidating man standing at the front door, ensuring everyone who entered wore a mask and entered/exited through the correct doors. Gone were the days of grabbing any old grocery cart; I now had to quickly discern which ones were “usable” (aka: disinfected) and which ones were “off limits.”
The aisles were equipped with colored arrows and X’s, directing foot traffic. Such a seemingly simple and even mindless task of grocery shopping was suddenly unfamiliar, overwhelming, and a source of anxiety.
Businesses of every kind had to make changes during the pandemic; healthcare facilities especially had to undergo a complete transformation to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. If patients did not already have anxiety about going to their doctor’s office before the pandemic, they are more likely to now.
In fact, the rate of anxiety among Americans is at an all-time high. Research from Mental Health America indicates that from January to September of this year, 315,220 people submitted to MHA’s Screening for Anxiety – a 93% increase over the 2019 total number of anxiety screens. (1)
Now more than ever, when visiting healthcare facilities, patients desire to encounter a care team that exhibits compassionate patience, which substantially reduces patient anxiety.
The Opposite of Patience?
CBS News published an article earlier this month regarding the anxiety-ridden climate of today’s culture.
In her interview with Dr. Amit Sood, author Robyn McFadden writes, “‘Impatience is not simply the opposite of patience,’ Sood explained. ‘Rather, the absence of patience brings anxiety, illness, injury, and loneliness – and even death.’” (2)
As healthcare professionals, you can combat the growing rate of anxiety among patients by exhibiting compassionate patience, allowing YOUR calm demeanor to substantially diminish, if not eliminate, your patients feeling anxious about their patient experience.
Medical Economic’s survey indicates that 71% of patients feel their physicians don’t show compassion during appointments. (3)
That’s an unfortunately high percentage of patients who feel improperly cared for by their physicians.
Anthony Orsini, DO, empathizes how the daily demands placed on physicians can hinder them from delivering compassionate care. He states, “We get caught up in our daily routine, we are becoming more and more task-oriented, and often, unknowingly, just forget that medicine at its core is a human-to-human interaction.” (3)
A Meaningful, Compassionate Connection
John Hopkins performed a study involving breast cancer survivors in which the patients were exposed to two different types of interactions with oncologists.
One interaction was strictly informational while the other “experimental arm” of the study was both informational and personal. (4)
Regarding the results, author Christopher Cheney writes in his article published by Health Leaders just a few days ago, “What they found was that the experimental arm compared to the standard informational arm had a statistically significant reduction in anxiety among the cancer survivors.” (5) Furthermore, Cheney highlights the compassionate care delivered during the experiment did not require a great deal of additional time. He writes, “It takes less than a minute to make a meaningful, compassionate connection with a patient.” (5)
If Mama Ain’t Happy
While I do not carry the specific pressure of providing patients with quality, compassionate care, I do carry the stress of providing care for four kids under the age of ten.
Let me explain.
Between the hours of 6:30am and 8:30am you can find me running around our house repeatedly barking orders to my twin seven-year-old boys, begging my tween daughter to put the screen down, while having to dress and feed my completely dependent kindergartener with Cerebral Palsy.
There’s a lot to juggle in a short amount of time and stress levels are high. Furthermore, my stress tends to be contagious and makes everyone in the house miserable. To lower everyone’s blood pressure, I’m making strides towards managing everyone’s needs in a more compassionate and patient manner.
I must admit, it is quite the difficult task. However, what I am learning is that it is all about my mindset. Do I view my children as tasks to cross off on my to-do list, or do I see them as unique individuals that I have been entrusted to care for? Being patient with them comes down to a choice and when I intentionally choose to show compassion towards them, the entire house is better for it.
The same principles may be applied to your work environment. Healthcare professionals who strive towards intentionally setting a culture of compassion and patience benefit in a variety of ways. Not only does it decrease patient anxiety, but it also lowers the stress level of the entire healthcare team. In the article previously mentioned, Cheney explains that clinicians who practice compassion with patients are less likely to experience burnout. (5)
Warm Versus Cold
According to Charlie Williams’ article, “The One Thing That’s Sure to Make You a Better Doctor,” there’s scientific evidence that practicing compassion can help doctors improve patient outcomes.
He writes, “Research suggests that when given the choice, most patients would prefer a physician who is kind and warm over one who graduated at the top of their class but is cold.” (6)
Furthermore, he lists several “compassionless typecasts” common among physicians that prevent them from delivering compassionate care:
1. The Dictator
2. The Uncaring Judge and Jury
3. The Dubious Advisor
His article is a great practical read if you’re struggling to determine whether your patients perceive you and your healthcare team as compassionate or not.
I’d like to leave you with a quote from the previously mentioned CBS News article: “How we handle ourselves in these uncertain times comes at a price.” (2)
With the rise of anxiety in the world, we are presented with the choice whether to fuel it or diffuse it.
As caregivers of various types, we have the privilege of influence. Whether we like it or not, people are going to be affected by how we conduct our lives during these unprecedented times.
Let’s exercise patience and help reduce anxiety.
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Jerry L. Stone