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A Little Compassion Goes a Long Way

I recently had a simple shoulder surgery. The process was smooth, the staff performed their tasks well, everything ran on time. At 48 hours afterward, I was in a pain pill haze and felt weak and vulnerable: the post-op process was smooth, the staff performed their tasks well and everything ran on time, but I wanted someone to ask me, “How do you feel? Do you have any concerns?”

In our work at HealthInsight we focus a lot on process and systems, we teach health care providers to follow evidence-based practices, be efficient, use checklists, improve work flow. What about the connection between patient and healer? Are we forgetting the power of caring?

For our Annual Quality Conferences next spring, we’ve engaged a moving keynote speaker with a compelling message of the healing power of compassion. Albuquerque physician David Rakel, MD, in his book, “The Compassionate Connection,” describes the science behind human connection as a primary force of healing, and he makes a case for being present and listening to patients as equally important to healer and patient. In his final chapter aptly titled, “Move from Burnout toward Beauty,” Dr. Rakel illustrates with many examples that science has shown that being compassionate helps not only the person in need but also the caregiver or healer – both emotionally as well as physically. The positive emotions generated from feeling compassion physiologically affect immune function and the brain.

I believe wholeheartedly in empathy and listening and how mind and body are strongly connected, and after reading Dr. Rakel’s book, I’m convinced that we must not forget our human capacity for caring, both in our professional and our personal lives. Take a pause when rushing through an encounter, a conversation or difficult situation to listen and connect. Practice and encourage empathy: it heals.

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