Can We Teach Compassion?

By Jill | Uncategorized, , , , ,

When a nurse says “The doctor will see you now,” the doctor might not really be seeing you. According to a 2013 study by Johns Hopkins University, a large majority of young doctors fresh out of medical school failed to use common communication skills with hospitalized patients. More than half of observed internists failed to introduce themselves to patients or explain their role in the medical proceedings. As far as having a face-to-face conversation with an internist, forget it. Fewer than 1 in 10 young doctors had sit-downs with patients.

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While rude or harried, doctors are common, lack of MD compassion can have consequences. Studies prove that doctors who show compassion can aid in patient recovery. And with the Affordable Care Act emphasizing patient satisfaction when it comes to Medicare payments, compassionate doctors can help boost a hospital’s bottom line.

Mindfulness is the latest trend aimed at instilling compassion in doctors. Mindfulness, or focusing on the present moment, is what spiritual teachers mean when they say “be here now.” While it sounds easy, a state of mindfulness can be difficult to achieve for those working long hours surrounded by stress, pain, and suffering. However, doctors who take mindfulness courses have shown marked improvement in their treatment of patients. In one recent study by Dr. Luke Fortney in Madison, Wisconsin, 30 clinicians were taught simple mindfulness techniques. These included focusing on a single breath, feeling the air on the skin, or simply concentrating on the moment. Doctors who participated in the study were more likely to engage in patient-centered communication while building better relationships. Patients reported higher overall satisfaction.

Mindfulness training not only helps patients recover but helps lessen the effects of stress that lead to burnout. A 2012 JAMA study found that 46 percent of physicians, and 36 percent of nurses, exhibit at least one symptom of burnout. This can result in profound feelings of disillusionment, depression, helplessness, hopelessness, unhappiness and detachment. These feeling can result in medical errors and even suicide. Mindfulness has been associated with numerous positive effects including reducing stress, improving cognitive functions, and boosting creativity and empathy.

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