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Compassion in healthcare improves patient outcomes

Compassion in healthcare improves patient outcomes

November 7, 2015

Compassion in healthcare dramatically improves clinical outcomes, says Dr Robin Youngson, a New Zealand specialist anaesthetist and internationally recognised advocate for compassion in healthcare.

Speaking to the New Zealand Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) being held in Wellington, November 5-7, Dr Youngson said the standard materialistic objective of medical science could give doctors an extremely misleading picture of patients.

“It is important that your human caring goes alongside your medical practice,” he said, citing research that showed how emotional and psychological well-being made a huge difference to a patient’s physical outcome. This included research showing:

• That in the 12-15 years following cardiac disease, pessimists had four times the mortality rate of optimists, and three times the mortality rate from all diseases, including cancer.

• That pessimists were three times more likely to get the flu as optimists.

• That burnout caused a 40 per cent increase in heart attack and stroke – more than smoking, high cholesterol and lack of exercise.

• That diabetic patients of high empathy GPs had 42 per cent fewer hospital admissions for metabolic crises than those with low empathy GPs.

• That the physician-patient relationship had a bigger effect on the five-year risk of having a cardiovascular event than prescribing a cholesterol-lowering drug.

“This is something we can profoundly influence through compassionate practice,” Dr Youngson said.

His interest in the subject was sparked by sitting in the hospital where he had previously worked but this time as the parent of a critically injured daughter, and learning first-hand what a tremendous difference little but highly significant instances of compassion made.

“Compassion has a powerful healing response, which is supported by our drugs and therapies. The experience of care triggers a powerful biological response in the patient. A compassionate approach has been shown to reduce an elevated heart rate and blood pressure, without the need for clinical intervention.”

Dr Youngson said a study of patients with terminal lung cancer had found that those offered compassionate whole person care early had less than half the rate of clinical depression and survived about 30 per cent longer despite being more likely to decline aggressive medical treatment, and thus also reduced the overall cost of care.

“The weight of evidence is that compassionate care is more effective clinically, undoubtedly safer, satisfies patients, saves time, reduces demand, lessens the cost of care, and gives us (doctors) joy and meaning in our work,” he said, calling for compassionate care to be a key element of how medicine is taught rather than its focus on objective and materialistic science.

Dr Youngson is the co-founder of “Hearts in Healthcare”, a global movement for human-centred healthcare, through which he has helped lead change in many countries including Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland the USA, Canada, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands and Norway. Dr Youngson is also an honorary senior lecturer at Auckland University and author of Time to Care – how to love your patients and your job.


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