Compassion Corner: The Role Patient Advocates Can Play in Creating More Compassion in Healthcare

Compassion [kuhmpash-uhn] noun
A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

Compassion Corner is a new weekly series from Patient Worthy that will focus on the subject of compassion in the healthcare and rare disease space. In this series, we explore the role of compassion in this field and what it means for caregivers, patients, and others.

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Cynthia Lockrey writer, communications professional, advocate, and speaker introduces a new book by Dr. Brian Goldman, an emergency room physician, entitled The Power of Kindness.

Cynthia explains that reading Dr. Goldman’s book reminded her of her own books and articles that encourage patients, caregivers, and families to speak up and speak out. Cynthia believes patient advocates can set examples of compassion for healthcare professionals to follow.

She spends a major portion of her time focused on kindness in healthcare and Dr. Goldman’s goals are compatible with her own.

An Idea for a Book

The inspiration for Dr. Goldman’s book came to him after he asked a question of himself: “Am I a kind soul?” His search for an answer led him to write his book.

Years of Experience in Healthcare Translates to Less Compassion for Patients

One of the first issues Dr. Goldman encountered was that nurses and other healthcare workers who have years of experience tend to be less likely to respond to a patient’s pain. The reason may that they work with pain on a daily basis in a high-stress environment.

Understanding the Difference

Empathy is defined as the ability to sense other people’s emotions.

Clinical empathy is defined as acknowledging the emotional state of another yet not experiencing it yourself.

Compassion, however, is defined as a feeling of sympathy for another person together with a desire to relieve their suffering.

During the discussion of empathy and compassion in healthcare, the terms may be used interchangeably throughout this article.

Patients Have Been Told to be Seen and Not Heard

Cynthia offers assurance that a patient is not alone in feeling that their body is receiving treatment but the staff does not look at them as a ‘whole person.’

Some scenarios for minor illnesses may sound like this:

  • Someone comes in and checks your vital signs
  • You are asked, briefly, if you have any concerns
  • You are given a prescription
  • You thank the doctor and leave

Cynthia says that although the procedure appears to be efficient, many times she was frustrated as she did not fully understand the doctor’s instructions and felt her concerns were not completely understood.

Looking at Both Sides

To be fair, Cynthia points out that healthcare workers are often required to work under pressure with an endless number of patients. However, they should still acknowledge the patient who is in their charge. That patient may be frightened, in pain, and emotionally exhausted.

Many patients are too intimidated to speak up and do so only when they have had a truly negative experience. Cynthia has since learned that she must speak up, especially when it comes to her son’s medical condition.

Advocating for Her Son

Cynthia begins her doctor’s appointment with her six-year-old son by describing her child who, after many tests and medical appointments, is fearful of doctors.

She does not begin with her child’s problem or her expected outcome. This is where patient advocacy puts human experience and a face on the person sitting across from the doctor.

Transforming Healthcare

In order for healthcare professionals to fully understand the impact of a specific procedure on a patient, healthcare itself must be transformed and patient-focused. When a patient tells personal stories, then the healthcare professional can see how patients are affected in positive and negative ways by common procedures.

The more patients are given a voice in discussing their treatment, the greater the chances of patient-centric healthcare.

Looking Forward

Cynthia leaves her readers with several questions:

  • What are your plans to have your voice heard?
  • What will you do to encourage your healthcare provider to show more compassion?
  • How can you change the dynamics if you feel you are not being heard by your doctor?
  • Are you currently involved at any level in the transformation of healthcare?
Rose Duesterwald

Rose Duesterwald

Rose became acquainted with Patient Worthy after her husband was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) six years ago. During this period of partial remission, Rose researched investigational drugs to be prepared in the event of a relapse. Her husband died February 12, 2021 with a rare and unexplained occurrence of liver cancer possibly unrelated to AML.

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