Only by changing how we think about kindness at the bedside, in the workplace and in our community can we deliver world-class care to our patients.– Gary Greensweig
What could be more fertile ground for the AC4P Movement than healthcare? The aims of AC4P parallel what healthcare has been recently attempting to accomplish with patient-centered care – creating cultures of empathy, compassion, and interdependence.
The roots of patient-centered healthcare date back to 2000, when a landmark Institute of Medicine study estimated medical errors contributed to 44,000–98,000 preventable deaths and 1,000,000 excessive injuries each year in the United States. The impact of these medical mistakes was widespread, extending beyond fatalities and permanent disabilities to include hospital-acquired infections, hospital readmissions, wrong-site surgeries, wrong medications and incorrect dosages given to patients, and emotional trauma for both patients and their families.
Subsequent to this awareness of healthcare errors, a paradigm shift has begun to slowly emerge: from physician-centered care to patient-centered care. From physician knows all to patients know best how well their healthcare providers are meeting their needs. The traditional physician-centered approach to healthcare is humorously depicted in the illustration on the next page and is seemingly still the perception of many benefactors and beneficiaries of healthcare.
One of the tenets of patient-centered care is a positive relationship between the recipient of healthcare and the caregiver, whether a surgeon, hospitalist, resident, nurse, X-ray technician, MRI operator, primary-care physician, or the technician who draws blood and takes blood pressure readings in a patient's hospital room. Some healthcare facilities have taken this paradigm shift a step further by teaching the AC4P principles of patient-centered care to almost all new hires, from housekeepers and receptionists to maintenance workers and those who bring patients their meals.
Patient-centered care has a long way to go before it becomes institutionalized in healthcare facilities and throughout the medical community. But the healthcare industry is now aware, if not always accepting, of the truism that patients want personal connections with their physicians, nurses, and other caregivers. This requires physician-to-patient communication that includes empathic listening and relationship-building conversations, as discussed in Chapter 5.
Furthermore, some medical schools are teaching their students how to practice empathy. Why? Empirical research has demonstrated substantial benefits of physician empathy.