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  • Writer's picturePat Mastors

Patients: Looking for Champions

Spending hours on the phone trying to find out how much a common medical procedure will cost (and failing). Filling in a clipboard full of information (the same old stuff - don't you have this already?) then waiting an hour in a room full of sick people and forking over $150 for three stitches. Pressing a nurse call button for the third time in thirty minutes, the intercom speaker failing to mask the annoyance in the tinny voice: "yes, we'll get to it as soon as we can". In the range of medical challenges that have touched my family, these aren't even close to serious. But wow, do they make us feel unseen and unimportant! Too often as patients we're made to feel like annoying intruders, outsiders to a complicated, incomprehensible system. Our role is to comply. Adhere. Wait our turn. And how wildly grateful we are when things go smoothly! When someone is kind, takes the time to explain, hunts down answers for us.

This may not be news. But what is new is that big industries outside of health care, seeing a three trillion-dollar opportunity and fed up with medical costs that are “the tapeworm of American economic competitiveness”, are poised to open new business lines in health care. In addition to bringing big data and deep pockets into the mix, they’ve learned that a culture of listening to their constituents –

empathy - is key to their continued viability, and that compassion (the willingness to act to alleviate another’s suffering) earns raving fans. In fact, compassion is being touted in top business circles as the key to lasting success, both personally and professionally.

If there’s any industry that needs to adopt an over-arching theme of compassion to build resilience within its teams and win the hearts and minds of those it serves, it’s health care. By catalyzing an environment of compassion (including self-care for clinicians), what untold impact can we have on downstream aspects of care such as patient engagement, shared decision-making, patient-centered care, open notes, transparency, discharge planning and yes - even safety? When we genuinely care for and respect someone (or are held accountable to act as though we do), aren’t these practices more likely to become organic extensions of the culture? The answer is yes…and the change can profoundly improve not only patient experiences, but joy at work and an organization’s performance metrics, as described in this stellar case reported in the Harvard Business Review.

In this vein, going forward, rather than boiling the ocean of patient issues, I'm embracing the decisive chorus from patients – and my personal conviction – that the answer to what ails our health care system lies in a more robust, consistent practice of compassionate, human-centric care. With the newly formed Patients’ View Partners, alongside a small but committed handful of clinical, business and advocacy leaders in health care, I’ll be helping to promote policies and practices that support compassion as a critical element of care.

As blockbuster industries enter the health care arena, concerns over big data and loss of privacy are inevitable. No seismic change can occur without consequences. But patients and clinicians are eager for champions who know the value of treating people with dignity and compassion, such that all of us navigating medical events can anticipate less pain in the process, and more agency over our lives.

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