Why Practicing Medicine With Kindness Matters


Extra care and consideration improves patient care and decreases healthcare costs


The sweeping provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act have altered the healthcare industry. The way patients access care, how providers are reimbursed and how the industry as a whole is held accountable has changed. As physicians attempt to keep up with the changes, we find ourselves spending increased amounts of time with electronic medical records, remote access web-based care tools and other technologies that move us away from our primary purpose being in relationship with our patients. What if, amidst all the changes, we're forgetting one of our most valuable tools: human kindness?

Human connection provides sustenance to our work as providers. It fuels our desire to have strong relationships with our patients and co-workers, and to serve and treat them with compassion. Human kindness is an essential piece of healthcare delivery and should guide our work every day. Regardless of how health care is changing, it is important that we as physicians prioritize kindness in how we treat patients, relate to their families and loved ones and interact with our colleagues.   Kindnessinhealthcare

Why kindness matters
When patients are ill, they often face fear and uncertainty. During these times they look to us, their care providers, for expertise, guidance and compassion. In more than 30 years of practicing medicine, I have seen that in these moments of fear and vulnerability we have a unique opportunity and privilege to provide comfort. By treating our patients with kindness and compassion, we also help them manage their fear and uncertainty.

At Dignity Health, we value how kindness and compassion are part of how we deliver care to every patient that walks through our doors. A survey conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of Dignity Health confirmed our long-standing belief that delivering healthcare with kindness matters. The survey revealed that a vast majority of Americans feel kind treatment by a physician is more important in choosing a healthcare provider even than other key considerations including average wait time before appointments, distance from home and the cost of care. Though the survey confirmed the importance of kind care to patients, it revealed something startling about our national healthcare system. Sixty-four percent of Americans have experienced unkind behavior in a healthcare setting, including the failure of a caregiver to connect on a personal level (38 percent), staff rudeness (36 percent) and poor listening skills (35 percent). Though kindness in care settings is important, it seems it may often be neglected.

Kindness: A consideration and criteria
When patients experience feelings of comfort, they can fully focus on healing. These feelings are so important that they serve as informal criteria to help patients determine where they will seek treatment, which providers they prefer and even how much they are willing to pay for care. The Wakefield survey discovered that 87 percent of patients feel kind treatment is more important than other key considerations when considering a new healthcare provider or physician.

Boosting the bottom line with kindness
More than just a matter of satisfaction, kindness serves as a driver in the important healthcare decisions patients make. Kindness is such a crucial consideration, in fact, that 90 percent of those surveyed say they would feel like finding a new provider after receiving unkind treatment.

Seventy-two percent of Americans would be willing to pay more for a healthcare provider or physician who emphasized kindness in their treatment, and 88 percent of respondents would even be willing to travel further to see a kinder healthcare provider.

Although Americans overwhelmingly value kind treatment as a priority in care, the survey indicated that kindness across the national healthcare system is lacking. Not surprisingly, 93 percent felt unkind treatment negatively impacted the quality of their care. These failures to deliver care with kindness often catalyze a series of negative impacts on patient health outcomes.

While provider expertise and guidance are important to patients, kindness often impacts the level of trust a patient places in his or her care team. Eighty-two percent of respondents are more likely to trust physicians who emphasize kindness in delivering care. Without a relationship built on trust and honesty, patient-provider communication suffers, jeopardizing the quality of care. In the Wakefield study, over half of patients reported having omitted information about themselves or their health when speaking to an unkind healthcare provider. Without trust, a patient is unable to focus on their healing. Without information, a physician is unable to provide the best care possible and health outcomes suffer.

As we strive to build better relationships and better serve our patients, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate how effectively we prioritize kindness in our care.

Reviving kindness
Our nation's conversation about healthcare has become less patient-centric and more policy-centric. It is important that we as physicians remain steadfast in our dedication to providing the best possible care and achieving the best possible health outcomes for each patient we see. The Wakefield survey results serve as a reminder that the way in which we deliver care is as important as the innovative technologies, medications and procedures we provide. One of the most important tools we have to fight fear, uncertainty and discomfort is perhaps also one of the most simple and inexpensive: kindness.

At Dignity Health, we are taking steps to develop a kinder community of care, both within our hospitals and throughout the areas we serve. Certainly this means employing basic courtesies in each of our patient interactions, including listening without interruption, maintaining steady eye contact and paying careful attention to both the words and body language of our patients. It also means working to strengthen our relationships with our patients and colleagues by infusing kindness into our conversations, requests we make of one another and gestures that build trust and familiarity among care teams.

Dr. Gary Greensweig, chief physician executive for Dignity Health in the San Francisco Bay Service Area, has been practicing medicine for more than three decades and focuses much of his attention on the importance of kindness when delivering better patient care. To learn more about Dignity Health, please visit dignityhealth.org.


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