Why Compassion is Important for Healthcare – Hurricane Harvey

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With all the news and distress about Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas very badly this week, one story really stood out. Roads are flooded. Schools are closed. Thousands of flights were cancelled. An elective surgery can wait. But a baby being born cannot wait.

Reading about the dedicated, heroic labor and delivery doctors and nurses who braved the Category 4 hurricane to show up for duty was very moving. 

There’s no doubt that the grind of physician life can lead to an empathy problem: stress, anxiety, mountains of paperwork and sheer lack of time. But reading about our doctors and nurses this week putting patient care and safety first was an amazing reminder of how compassion is at the heart of healthcare.

There are three important elements to compassion:

  1. Recognizing that the patient is suffering and needs help
  2. Emotional resonance (the sense of connection with a patient)
  3. Moving to address the suffering

The first part which is that knowing there were patient in pain and needing help is probably the primary reason that the doctors and nurses showed up for work amidst Hurricane Harvey. But then once there, the second and third elements of compassion would be of equal importance.

How do you show emotional resonance or connection? Researchers note that the tone of voice, as well as pauses in speech, conveyed emotion and attitude. This means taking the time to set aside whatever you’re doing to focus your attention exclusively on the patient you’re with.

“Compassion is one of what I call the four C’s; along with competency, communication and convenience, these are things patients should be able to expect from their doctors,” Manoj Jain wrote in 2011. “Compassion and communication skills are part of a good bedside manner, something that medical schools strive to teach.”

If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend this Ted talk by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence:

How easy is it to show compassion in our healthcare system? As always, let me know your thoughts!

– Rob


Connect with Dr. Olson on Twitter @DrRobOlson

Dr. Olson is the founder and principal of National OBGYN Hospitalist Consulting Group. Dr. Olson is a leading OBGYN Hospitalist and Entrepreneur who is passionate about continual improvements in safety and patient care, Dr. Olson is the founder and former president of the Society of OB/GYN Hospitalists, currently the largest organization providing support and opportunities for OBGYN Hospitalists in the United States.

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