There has been an increased focus on kindness and empathy in healthcare over recent years. That is of course not to say that it hasn’t existed before then – far from it – but there is increasing evidence that empathy and better health outcomes are linked. Dr Youngson – originally an anaesthesiologist in the UK and now based in New Zealand – and author of the inspiring book “Time to Care” – has spent much of his time championing the case for empathy amongst healthcare professionals. He points to some compelling research:
- At Harvard University a meta-analysis of 13 randomised control trials found that, for people at the risk of heart attack or stroke, having an empathetic doctor was better for their health than stopping smoking.
- An earlier study of early palliative care for lung cancer found that patients with an empathetic doctor (even those who turned down chemotherapy and radiotherapy) lived 30% longer than other patients.
- Another study of 21,000 insulin-dependent diabetic patients in Italy found that those with doctors lacking in empathy had 70% more admissions to hospital for the treatment of life-threatening diabetic crises.
This may or may not come as welcome news to members of the medical community who are already under huge pressure to do more with less and sometimes find that the only coping mechanism to some of the heartbreak they encounter is to “keep some distance”. However Dr Youngson gives medical professionals some hope citing further research that shows that “the more empathetic doctors were, the less likely they were to burn out”.
Compassion and empathy can exist in healthcare in all sorts of ways and here are seven of our most recent finds:
1. Often compassion in care is about the very small things – actions that seem almost innocuous but have hugely profound effects. One such example is a simple initiative called Tea with Matron that is taking place in various NHS hospitals around the UK. At Derriford hospital in Plymouth both in- and outpatient patients and their families can sit down monthly for an informal tea with the Head Nurse – or Matron – from each ward and talk about whatever is important to them at that point. The subject of these conversations is secondary – the value of these conversations is that they are genuine and compassionate conversations between people – breaking down some of the more traditional patient-professional dialogues. In some cases, recently bereaved family members have come along to meet the matrons to talk about their loss and to understand a little more about their family member’s last days.
2. Tea with Matron is about demonstrating compassionate listening,Discovering Hands® utilises another critical sense when it comes to empathy – touch. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women both in the developed and less developed worlds which is why early detection remains one of the key priorities. Currently one of the main ways of screening is mammography which is unfortunately prohibitively expensive for some sectors of the population and some markets. There is a very interesting series of trials taking part in Germany where visually-impaired women are being trained as “MTEs” (Medical Tactile Examiners). These MTEs are typically based in a doctor’s practice replacing the traditional doctor or gynaecologist’s breast examination. The traditional examinations tended to take only 3 minutes – such is the pressure on doctors’ times but these MTEs tend to invest up to 30 minutes in the session where the focus is not just on detection but also on possible prevention. The results are compelling – MTEs have been found to detect between 30-50% more potential issues than doctors. In addition to Germany and Australia, pilots are being conducted in India and Colombia.
3. Compassion and empathy does not always have to be of the human kind. Around the world pet therapy has been gaining traction – indeed often “the practice outpaces the research” explains a professor at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine but people believe it to work and that’s often half the battle. There are still strict limitations and guidelines understandably as to how pets are used, which is what makes this very seemingly simple initiative from Juravinksi hospital in Ontario, Canada so compelling. Paws for Healing is an organisation that arranges for patients to get weekly visits from their own pets rather than trained therapy dogs. The organisation was set up by Donna Jenkins whose nephew Zachary was diagnosed with aggressive Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Zachary’s family managed to arrange for his dachshund Chase to visit him in the hospital. Donna could see first hand the benefits and after Zachary’s death launched Paws for Healing. Care is taken to ensure the animal does not unduly disrupt the environment. It is assessed for temperament, cleanliness and overall health and then placed in a covered crate which is wheeled into the patient’s room. The crate helps to prevent any problems with other patients who might be less than comfortable with dogs and also helps to settle the dog to the environment that may be a little overwhelming at first. Safe inside the patient’s own room, the dog can then be brought out. It's worth remembering that pets also have separation anxiety and so these visits bring genuine happiness and benefits all round. Read more about this here.
4. With AI (artificial intelligence) on the rise, it won’t be long until robots are providing real comfort. Today we are already seeing examples of what are being called “social robots”. The University of Lincoln School of Computer Science – in conjunction with a host of European partners – has created theENRICHME project standing for “Enabling Robot and associated living environment for Independent Care and Health Monitoring of the Elderly”. (Yup – we can see why they shortened it!) This project includes a robot called Alfie who can help users with tasks like remembering to take their medicine. It also helps to create video links between the elderly person and their network e.g. family, friends, medical staff and other caregivers to enhance social interaction despite their own limited mobility.
5. Technology is also enhancing social interaction for patients in other ways. The Christophe and Dana Reeve Foundation has partnered with 360i to announce Adaptoys. These are adapted toys which give people with physical disabilities the freedom to enjoy playing with their families. It is best explained by watching this video where you can see first-hand Eric LeGrand – a former university football player who endured a paralysing spinal cord injury and Donna Lowich, quadriplegic grandmother, trying out the toys. As Donna expressed so movingly in the Adaptoys press release “Everyone deserves to play with their loved ones.”
6. We end this article about empathy in healthcare with two examples aimed at all of us. Sometimes the most important thing that we can all do is to try and understand some of these complex conditions a little more in order to provide better support, funding or just a bit more personal compassion. The potential impact of dementia on our ageing population makes for stark reading but surveys indicate that there is still very little understanding about what dementia is. Which is why former Doctor Who actor Christopher Eccleston recently worked with Alzheimer’s Research UK to produce a clip that confronts potential misconceptions about dementia. An orange is used to demonstrate how Alzheimer’s is a disease stripping away a brain bit by bit. It explains that the brain of a person weighs approximately 140grammes less than the weight of a healthy brain – about the weight of an orange. But this is a disease, not just a part of ageing, so with more awareness and more funding, this is potentially something that can be beaten. As Christopher Eccleston encourages us – Share the Orange.
7. They say that if you want to really understand something from someone else’s point of view you need to “walk a mile in their shoes”. This pop-up shoe store, Amp shoes, attempted to do just that. Over one weekend, 135 shoes were on display in an apparent designer shoe store but none of them were actually for sale. Every shoe was there to represent the 135 diabetes-related amputations taking place in England every single week. The concept was created by health advertising agency Langland (big shout out to my old colleague Andrew Spurgeon). I am sure you will agree that this is an immensely powerful project to raise awareness of the shocking effect of Diabetes and to stop avoidable amputations. See for yourself here.
We hope you enjoyed our latest TMI-Spy round up. Follow us for more customer experience trends across a range of industries.
This article was first published on LinkedIn