Compassion can be defined as a sensitivity to distress together with the commitment, courage, and wisdom to do something about it. Patient outcomes are proven to improve when the spirit of compassion influences in all patient interactions.
Press Ganey has found six themes in compassionate care:
■ Acknowledge Suffering: We should acknowledge that our patients are suffering and show them that we understand.
■ Body Language Matters: Non-verbal communication skills are as important as the words we use.
■ Anxiety is Suffering: Anxiety and uncertainty are negative outcomes that must be addressed.
■ Coordinate Care: We should show patients that their care is coordinated and continuous, and that “we” are always there for them.
■ Caring Transcends Diagnosis: Real caring goes beyond delivery of medical interventions to the patient.
■ Autonomy Reduces Suffering: Autonomy helps preserve dignity for patients.
If empathy doesn’t come naturally to a health care provider, it can be taught. Coaching on patient interactions can make a big difference. Instead of making providers into something akin to healthcare machines, the goal should be to create people who can function as healthcare empaths.
Obviously, there are many competent providers for whom compassion may not be a natural component of their makeup. And providers, at the end of the day, are only human and can have their limits stretched, particularly in the difficult healthcare environment. But providing hope and support can only serve to make provider/patient interactions more productive.