Patients save Themselves!

In our busy society, people have become accustomed to being referred to as numbers, rather than by name, when working with many businesses and services. This trend has become so widespread because in terms of profit, quantity outweighs quality for many businesses. Unfortunately, many health service providers, such as doctor’s offices and pharmacies, also operate in this manner. This is exceptionally wrong because dealing with a customer or patient’s health and well-being is highly personal. Treating patients like they are just another number is discouraging and upsetting, and becomes reflected on their overall  progress. We have all benefited from a simple uplifting experience with another person, such as a simple conversation, talking to someone that listens, receiving a smile, or receiving an empathetic response. These behaviors cannot be underestimated, because they subconsciously uplift people’s spirit, which can lead to an overall positive result.

Rebecca Garden, PhD from the Center for Bioethics and Humanities from SUNY Upstate Medical University, defined empathy as “involving emotion, reason, and a desire to help a person in distress” by “recognizing and explicitly acknowledging that person’s emotions”. According to Garden’s article, empathizing encourages the patient to play an active role in the treatment, as it allows medical personnel to learn about the patient, as well as understanding their social and cultural background. Ways to empathize with patients can be to consciously recognize, understand, and accept a patient’s suffering, and making that a starting point for alleviating their discomfort (Garden).

Factors that can create obstacles to medical professionals while providing empathetic care can include extended work hours that may result in exhaustion, working in a high pressure environment, and having a limited time to build relationship with patients. However, those medical professionals who engage empathetically with their patients increase the patient’s sense of “satisfaction,” adherence with therapeutic regimens, and increased physiological well-being. Similarly, empathy also plays a key role in the satisfaction of the medical personnel by reducing burnouts, while creating a rewarding mental state (Garden).

Moreover, empathetic behavior motivates and empowers patients to make the changes they need to make in order to help themselves. We tend to respond better to situations when we know that it matters to someone, and the same logic applies to those who are ill in fighting their illnesses by adhering to medication regimens, eating right, and exercising.

After all, the only thing that distinguishes us from one another is our different experiences. However, these differences are frequently misunderstood, when they should actually be celebrated. The lesson I gathered from my experience is that relating positively to people, and showing them that you care about their well-being, can positively impact their lives. We are social animals, and the acceptance of patients for who they are by their health care providers is a vital part of their healing process. The illness or the condition of the disease is not who they are, but rather an added experience that can make them stronger and better people.

Article Source: Garden, Rebecca. Expanding clinical empathy: an activist perspective, Center for Bioethics  and Humanities,  SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY 13210, USA Jan. 2009.

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