Intuitively, we understand that compassion and patient outcomes would have a positive association. As social creatures, we are more likely to trust people and follow their recommendations if they show us compassion.
Data supports that compassion is vitally important- but what exactly is compassion? A Washington Post article about the role of compassion in health outcomes succinctly noted that compassion is an emotional response to another’s pain that results in action being taken. So unlike empathy, which is just a recognition of that pain, compassion necessitates that we take action to alleviate it.
Thus, it makes sense that compassion and patient outcomes are interconnected. Let’s take a look at exactly how compassion impacts medicine and patient care.
Compassionate communication facilitates better health outcomes
It should come as no surprise, that a positive health care experience is linked to improved outcomes. A 2017 study found that patient satisfaction was closely related to medication adherence and coping with a diagnosis. Can you guess the study ‘s leading contributor to patient satisfaction?
According to Dr. Stephen Trzeciak, a thought leader in the compassionate healthcare sphere, compassion can actually impact a patient’s perception of pain. His research has also shown that compassion can alleviate depression and anxiety in chronic care patients, and has shown to improve immune function in diabetic patients. Dr. Trzeciak attributes much of this to the fact that healthcare provider compassion makes patients feel seen, heard, and cared for.
Compassion lowers medical expenses
You may be wondering how in the world compassion could lower medical expenses. It’s actually pretty simple. Dr. Trzeciak’s research showed that higher levels of physician compassion were associated with lower discretionary use of resources. Diagnostic tests, unnecessary referrals, and hospital visits were all reduced in care experiences where the physician showed higher levels of compassion.
It may sound strange, but feeling cared for really does affect financial outcomes for patients. Dr. Anthony Mazzarelli, Dr. Trzeciak’s colleague, found that compassionate care made patients less likely to seek excessive healthcare services.
One clinical trial looked to measure, as concretely as possible, how compassion can decrease medical expenses for patients at primary care practices. Results from the trial suggested that compassionate care was attributed to cutting medical expenses in half.
Why, you may ask? And how?
Well, because patients who receive compassionate care have been shown to recover more quickly from the symptoms that initially brought them to their doctor. They also found that patient referral to specialists decreased by 59% and diagnostic testing decreased by 84% when patients felt that their providers were compassionate to their pain points.
Compassion decreases the risk of burnout
Perhaps the most surprising data is related to the effects of compassion on health care providers. Burnout is a buzzword in the healthcare community, and for good reason. Burnout rates in healthcare are higher than ever before.
Interestingly enough, Dr. Trzeciak’s research shows that providers who show lower rates of compassion are more likely to experience burnout than their more compassionate peers. He suggests that this is because compassion facilitates a human connection between providers and patients.
Compassionate care is also linked to faster healing times, which then fosters a sense of fulfillment for providers. All of this data suggests that the relationship between compassionate care and burnout seems to be inversely related in health care.
How to demonstrate compassion to your patients
Now that we know just how crucial compassion is to the patient experience, let’s look into how to display compassion as a healthcare professional when interacting with patients.
Sit down with your patients
When speaking with your patients in person, sit down whenever possible. This will make patients feel that they are on the same level as you. If you are meeting with patients virtually, be sure to be fully in the camera frame. Try to sit still, stay focused, and be present.
Make purposeful eye contact
It’s easy to get distracted, even during an important conversation. However, it’s especially important to maintain an appropriate level of eye contact with patients. This conveys a focus on the patient that may otherwise be lost without eye contact.
Take an interest in patients’ emotional wellbeing
Healthcare providers are busy, and often don’t have time for extraneous conversations. With that being said, emotional wellbeing has a major impact on physical health. This means that taking a couple of extra minutes to perform a psychological check on patients could mean fewer visits in the future.
Take time to humanize your patients
Be sure to do more than just check in on presenting symptoms. This may mean taking an interest in the patient’s life outside of their mental and physical health. Consider other stressors or big life events, and take note of how they seem to impact the patient. Follow up on those factors at future appointments.
Let the patient speak
It can be easy to get caught up in sharing your expertise when patients come into the office. And while arming them with accurate information regarding their health is important, just as important is allowing them to voice their thoughts and concerns.
Keep communication open
Give your patients a chance to digest what happened during their appointment, knowing that they can easily get in touch with you when they need future care. Keeping lines of communication open with patients proves that you have considered their perspective and are happy to continue conversations regarding their care journey.