Problems with the U.S. health care system include escalating costs, medical errors, inconsistent results and, according to a new national survey, a lack of compassion.
Accordingly, the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare has proposed an agenda for interjecting compassion back into our system.
“For most clinicians, compassionate care matters because it is fundamental to the practice of medicine, ethically sound, and humane,” according to lead author Beth Lown, M.D.
“However, there is also strong evidence that compassionate care improves health outcomes and quality of life, increases patient satisfaction, and lowers health care costs. Particularly as our health care system faces such intense pressure to reduce costs, we must make sure that this critically important element of health care is not lost.”
To ensure that all patients receive compassionate care, the Schwartz Center recommends that:
The Schwartz Center’s recommendations are in response to the results of a national survey of 800 patients and 510 doctors that it conducted in the fall of 2010.
The survey found that only 53 percent of patients and 58 percent of doctors rate the U.S. health care system as a compassionate one, despite strong agreement among patients and doctors that compassionate care is important to successful medical treatment and can even make a difference in whether a patient lives or dies.
The survey also found that more than two-thirds of patients (67 percent) and more than half of doctors (55 percent) are concerned that the changes taking place in the U.S. health care system will affect the ability of doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals to provide compassionate care.
In particular, survey respondees are concerned that the heightened emphasis on controlling costs will decrease the time physicians can spend with patients, thereby building additional barriers between providers and patients and diminishing the relationship.
At the time of the survey, more than half of the doctors surveyed (53 percent) said they were already spending less time with patients than they wanted.
According to the Schwartz Center, compassionate care is defined by the following four essential characteristics:
“There is a great deal of emphasis in health care these days on providing ‘patient-centered’ care, but care without compassion cannot truly be patient centered,” said Lown.
“Health care providers need time to listen to their patients, education in the skills of compassionate care, feedback based on measures of their performance, and leaders and systems that support healing relationships with patients and families,” she and her co-authors write.
“Compassion is as important in helping patients manage chronic and acute conditions as it is at the end of life,” Lown added.
“To improve quality and reduce costs, compassion should be present in all aspects of our health care system.”