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August Blogs Week 2: Connection with Doctors and Caregivers

This month I am going over why our connections are important to our stress management. This week, I am going to cover the connection you have with your doctor or with a caregiver.

Our bodies are amazing vessels and can respond to different types of stress in different ways. When we feel connected to another person, our body will respond in a calm manner. This is important when you or a loved one are going through some health issues. The medical journal Cancer documented a study where breast cancer patients who perceived their doctor as compassionate and caring were less stressed in the following months of their diagnosis.

Another study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology had two groups watch two different videos of a doctor explaining a diagnosis with a patient. In one video the doctor was very blunt and to the point with no emotions and laid out the risks and benefits of the treatments being offered. In the second video, the doctor expressed sympathy, support and compassion for the patient and the decisions they needed to make. When breast cancer patients watched the second video they were less anxious than when they watched the first video. They were more likely to believe that the doctor was looking out for their best interests and really cared about them and their diagnosis. This helped them with decision making and improved their long-term management of their stress related to their diagnosis.

Having a good relationship with your physician, therapist or even personal trainer can make all the difference in your stress management tool kit. Scientific literature is flooded with examples of how one thing is capable of boosting the survival of cancer patients, lowering the mortality rate of high risk cardiac patients, can reduce post-operative pain and increase success rates with diabetics while also boosting your immune system. Do you know what this thing is?

Compassion and/or a compassionate doctor or caregiver has this effect when they can create an amazing connection with their patient. Don’t confuse compassion with pity or commiseration though. It is a very different process that includes being present, engaged and willing to listen authentically to the patient to make a genuine connection so that healing can happen.

Dr. Robert Youngson, an anaesthesiologist created a campaign to make healthcare more compassionate. Some doctors think that their main duty is to be proficient, up-to-date and maintain a professional distance from their patients. Dr. Youngson’s research is proving otherwise. His research has shown that there are two type of doctors who fit the profile:

1. Empathetic doctors. Doctors who naturally understand empathy and how to use it focus all attention on the patient and their healing journey.

2. Doctors who have gone through a patient communication skill course where they learn specific skills to connect with their patients.

One technique that the doctors who take the course learn is the 3 T’s; Talk/listen, take time and touch.

What doctor’s are discovering is just by taking the time to talk and really be present and listen to their patients it will create a sense of comfort and peace as can a gentle doctor’s touch.

Many medical schools strive to teach compassion, communication skills as part of their bedside manner training. Dr. William Branch, and internist and professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta has been conducting studies for two decades to see if teaching compassion to doctors really does pay off. What he has found is that the health-care system doesn’t lack compassion; unfortunately, expressing compassion has become a challenge due to large patient volumes, electronic medical records and managed care. Compassion isn’t being taught in one single training, instead it is being taught in little parts of connecting with the patient. He states, “you have to be genuine; otherwise, it will show.” He has found that when patients do not think you are genuine, their health declines quicker.

He has found that each patient is different in their need for compassion. One may be fine with a pat on the back while another may need you to hold their hand while discussing serious life-threatening illnesses. He states that the art of medicine is not choosing the right medicine, but gauging the needs and providing the proper compassion, empathy and comfort that the patient needs.

Does your doctor ask you about your work, where you grew up, who you live with or what you like to do on your down time? Connecting with them on these levels not only comforts the patient, but they may open up about something that could be key in their healing process. Many patients don’t confront their doctors about their lack of compassion or behavior, so that is why Dr. Branch designed a training program to help doctors understand the importance of compassion and empathy in the grand scheme of helping a patient heal.

He has seen the most compassionate doctors torn between keeping real connections while trying to keep their workload manageable along with all the other administrative duties that need to be done. Health-care providers came to medicine because they are genuinely compassionate about helping others; unfortunately, with the changes in healthcare and increased patient loads, the joy has been lost and sometimes that can come across in uncaring and uncompassionate conversations.

What you and your doctor need to remember is that the doctor-patient relationship is part of the healing process. If this process starts in a negative way or lacking of any compassion or empathy, there may be a delay in healing.

In the 1990’s a team of Italian researchers found that individual neurons in the brains fo monkeys would fire whenever a monkey grabbed an object as well as when the monkeys watched another grab the same object. They were labeled mirror neurons and are a type of brain cell that fires when someone performs an action as well as when someone watches someone else perform the same action. These neurons exist in the brain areas in charge of emotions. We are able to recognize another person’s emotions simply by observing them. When we observe them, we feel the emotions of the other person. This provides the neurophysiological grounds for empathy.

Dr. Ivin D. Yalom, Psychiatry professor at Stanford University stated; “It’s the relationship that heals.” Having a good relationship with your patient filled with personal knowledge and based on care as well as the will to relieve the patient’s suffering is what will make a good doctor-patient relationship.

Psychologist Carl Rogers believed that there are three main ingredients to a good doctor-patient relationship: empathy, honesty and genuineness.

Many of the doctors and researchers have seen that the if the patient feels that they are being taken seriously and the doctor genuinely addresses their needs, it will lead to reduced healthcare waste as well as increased healing with the patients.

Many believe that with this wave of digital-era change, increase of patient load and even a pandemic, compassion is still a very valuable tool for those doctors who want to create an innovative way to work with their patients and make a bigger difference in their medical field.

Other research has shown that simple acts of kindness inspire others too. When one person sees compassion in another persons actions, it can have a snowball effect. Making compassionate people more receptive can help in lowering stress-related reactions, especially in healing.

Studies are showing that highly compassionate people have lower cortisol levels. Those with a greater concern for others are better prepared for stress and have a higher resiliency to stress or bad news than those who are not compassionate.

So, whether you are going for your annual checkup and have some questions about your blood tests or you have a serious health issue, make sure you have a good connection with your doctor. If you are not feeling the compassion, empathy or “love” feel free to ask for another opinion or seek out another doctor to chat with. It is your prerogative to make sure you get the best care for your health and wellness; mental and physical. Do what you need to do to make sure you are able to heal in all areas of your life.


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