Compassion – is it missing in medicine?

The provision of compassionate care in all clinical scenarios is well understood to add various benefits including patient satisfaction, improvement in compliance, less complaints, improved practitioner wellbeing and professional satisfaction.

Studies have shown that the degree of compassion expressed by medical students progressively declines over their course of training and markedly so in their final clinical years. What is it about the medical training that prepares professionals focused on the resolution of illness that also denies them the skills necessary to engage with their patients utilising appropriate compassion and human feelings?

Once in practice, it’s no better, the loss continues, General Practitioners, the front line of the NHS and frequently having to deal with the holistic care of the patient, unsurprisingly are found to have the highest levels of compassion among all specialities; however, they are also found to experience a very high rate of burn-out, with female doctors found to be prone to ‘compassion fatigue’ more so than male doctors.

Yet the population has never needed compassion more than it does now, and physicians also need the capacity to spend time, engage and inspire their patients; but the system is not aligned with these aims. The underlying cause is in part a process that for over 60 years has been designed to remove ‘ownership’ from personal health issues. That in effect personal responsibility can be transferred to the medical or health care providers and as such all activities that require a mix of change of behaviour and intervention, rather than an acute care intervention are mismatched with society and their needs.

Yet over 70% of us will die due to chronic, non infectious diseases, often at a substantial cost to family members and local resources. Whilst not all events that need long term care are attributable to behaviour, pretty much all have a connected element and yet these components are rarely addressed, rarely prioritised and rarely explained. These educational elements take time, take planning and take skills that are not available to the majority of physicians operating in the NHS. This mismatch is creating dissatisfaction across the entire spectrum of the population and health care, some feel they are being blamed, some that they are being denied and many just do not understand.

The role of allied health care providers such as Nutritional Therapists is currently to operate on the periphery of the NHS and it’s here that they are mostly misunderstood or simply unknown to the majority of clinicians. Yet there are changes occurring across this divide, movements are emerging and engaging, it takes time but the sheer economic cost of producing unhappy compassionate compressed clinicians and losing them to early retirement or change in direction will leave a gap that needs filling.

As reported by Nutri-link