Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Importance of Compassion

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Most chronic illness patients that I know have faced difficult times regarding at least one physician, if not several, that didn't fully hear their chief complaints or presenting problems. For most of us, this results in delayed diagnosis and treatment, which can then result in a health issue becoming chronic or worsening.

Lately, there have been a few high-profile cases involving patients who were being denied care then passing away as a result.

I believe this all goes back to the idea of listening to and not just hearing patients.

In the case of Barbara Dawson from Florida, it sounds like the abdominal pain was not fully examined and key questions that even patient advocates like myself know about weren't asked. Pulmonary embolisms can be difficult to diagnose and treat, but you can also catch the clot before it gets to that point. Given the time period here, perhaps these measures would not have saved Ms. Dawson.

That does not eliminate the fact that a lack of listening to a patient combined with compassion have resulted in an unneeded death. 

These people are not alone. I've lost people close to me due to infections that weren't treated effectively or due to the belittling of issues. Many of us have. But what can those of us in the patient or pharma realm do to halt these types of issues?

The biggest step is to encourage compassion. This can be through advertisements for medications or companies. It can be a part of the hiring or partnering process. We can encourage, or demand in some cases, changes in the medical education process to include more patients sharing their experiences with students and training in compassion.

We see similar changes via public policy though regarding insurance more than patients themselves. We see it in the introduction of new devices to bring healthcare into a digital age. We see this especially in the #wearenotwaiting movement associated with diabetes, which seeks to create innovation led by patients.

Developing compassion and empathy, whether as a medical student or a long-practicing physician, can save lives. It can even cut down on road rage and the like for the rest of us.

Let's start emphasizing compassion in all parts of our lives.

Resources and Further Reading:

Barbara Dawson:
Miami Herald
NBC News

The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University
Compassion and Integrity in Medical Education
Compassion Cultivation Training
Does Medical School Erode Student Empathy?
Has Your Doctor's Success Required More Competitiveness Than Compassion?
Researching the Effects of Compassion at Emory

About the author:

Kirsten Schultz is a health activist and blogger. You can read more about her life living with multiple chronic illnesses on her blog, on Creaky Joints, or follow her on Twitter.  

She will also be joining us this year at ePharma as an official guest blogger sharing insights from the event.  ePharma will take place February 29 - March 2, 2016, in New York City.  As a reader of this blog, when you register to join us with priority code EPHARMA16BL, you can save $100 off current rates!
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