In our series on creating the ideal healthcare organization, we proposed ten questions that all healthcare workers can use to promote the idea of improvement. Few of us are in a position to direct changes, but we all can and should use questions to challenge the existing state of affairs and lead people to a better one.
The second question on our list is, “Are we treating patients with respect and compassion?” These attributes are of course fundamental components of medical professionalism. A modernized version of the Hippocratic Oath includes the following: “I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”
In choosing those who are to be trained for medical careers, schools are supposed to use such mindsets as selection factors. Medical education is designed to promote these values, although it has been noted that negative influences, such as role models who do not exemplify them, can undo such learning. Alas, one does not have to go far to uncover disrespectful attitudes in medical practice, and “blame the patient” is a common form (“blame the nurse” is another).
Nurses are known and perhaps self-selected for compassion. But even they are subject to pressures or poor work cultures that lead them to disrespect and even bully patients (not to mention colleagues).
Healthcare organizations need to be careful in hiring processes to ensure that all workers – doctors, nurses, cafeteria attendants – are respectful and compassionate persons. Yet because healthcare work is so stressful, there is a serious problem of “compassion fatigue”. The all-too-common consequences can include lower patient satisfaction, more medical errors, and excessive turnover.
Hence there needs to be continuous training and learning on such values, which can also include communication and related issues. A focus on respect and compassion (not only for patients, but for employees and the community as well) should be part of everything the ideal healthcare organization does.
Patient experience programs can play a role, too. Obviously, patients know best how they are being treated. HCACAPS data thus may be useful, but the HCCAPS apparatus by itself is insufficient; information from all care givers is needed.
Perhaps the most powerful method for keeping the flame of respect and compassion burning is to have healthcare workers in discussion groups on our question. Organizations are often “too busy” to provide time for employees to share experiences and thoughts but there is no better way to uncover problems and obtain solutions. Patient-staff groups would be even more powerful, though only a “very ideal” organization might conceive of and implement such a mechanism.
It is the responsibility of everyone in the healthcare organization to ask this question and promote these values. A CEO can direct a program, a unit manager can include the issue in meetings, every worker can ask questions in day to day operations and start a discussion group, and even patients can insist on their right to respectful and compassionate treatment.
–Jim Murphy has a solo consulting practice called Management 3000, focusing on organizational development and change management. Being semi-retired, Jim is willing to provide very reasonably priced consulting, coaching or project work for organizations aspiring to improvement in organizational culture, effectiveness and employee engagement.
Formerly he led the Massachusetts Bay Organizational Development Learning Group, was Human Resources Director for the City of Boston Assessing Department, and served as a consultant with the Boston Management Consortium. His consulting practice includes management coaching as well as research and writing on employee relationships, leadership, healthcare and collaborative practices. Having produced newsletters for several organizations and being a frequent content writer for the”Confident Voices in Healthcare” blog, he is interested in writing and research opportunities, as we all consulting and coaching.