No peace lies in the future that is not to be found in the present.
Susan Dentzer, editor-in-chief of Health Affairs, used this quote to open a panel discussion on the future of compassionate healthcare. The opinions of patients and doctors, from national poll commissioned by the Schwartz Center, provided the basis for discussion. Panel members included: Dr. Alice Coombs, Massachusetts Medical Society; Robert Restuccia, Community Catalyst; Dr. Thomas Lynch, Yale Cancer Center and Maureen Bisognano, Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
Several themes emerged from the discussion:
There is a compassion gap. Panelists noted that the level of compassionate care patients receive falls short of their expectations. There is also a gap between doctors and patients about the level of compassionate care they believe healthcare professionals provide.
Communication skills are essential and teachable. Panelists stated that physicians must take the time to understand what patients and families want from their care.
Practice minimally disruptive medicine. Care will improve, panelists suggested, if doctors consider the benefits and burdens of medical treatment.
Medical education is critical. Students must learn how to connect with patients. Panelists added that medical education must target mid-career physicians as well.
Empathy and cultural competency are necessities. Panelists emphasized that the ability to understand the patient's viewpoint will become increasingly important as the US becomes more diverse.
Improve conversations about end-of-life-care. Panelists recommended that healthcare professionals be realistic and hopeful when discussing treatment options with patients at the time of diagnosis.
I think Susan summed things up beautifully:
- Compassionate care is important
- It will never get easier to provide compassionate care
- Compassionate care is most important when you're focused on the patient in front of you