What is the price of compassion? Tips4EyeDocs Daily – 06 Feb 2012 – No. 45

We are all caring professionals. Our patients not only want clinical expertise but also compassion. It is unmistakable that is an integral part of a patient encounter. It is a key component to a successful outcome and to a successful practice. But compassion is difficult to define, master and inculcate.

To a patient,  compassion may take many forms. First, it can be seen by the patient as  “active” or “reflective” listening. This is a kind of listening that is not biased and conveys no judgement by the doctor.  To busy doctors, however, we may unknowingly signal indifference because we are accustomed to listening for a chief complaint or contemplating what battery of tests to order. We might even interrupt a patient is not responding directly to a question.

Second, being dismissive of a patient’s concerns or questions may look like indifference.  Although a doctor may not have all of the answers at hand whenever a question is asked, discouraging questions always leads to decreased compliance to treatment or management.  Patient questions are based upon real concerns and may be an attempt to “get-to-know-the-doctor-better”.  Or it may be an attempt by the patient to frame questions that are useful. Acknowledging at least that you understand they have a question will somewhat ally this concern.

Lastly, compassion includes how the doctor presents the case.  Doctors tend to fall into two categories. On the one hand, the doctor may prescribe and the patient is expected to follow. On the other hand, the doctor and patient can share in the decision on how to manage. On the whole, most doctors fall into the latter category, but we may always execute better each time.  Not discussing or sharing in the decision means that the patient’s input is discounted even though the doctor may not intend for that perception to occur. It still does.

In the natural and normal course of clinical care in optometry, no significant depth of compassion is often needed or even required. But I believe the more that we can practice or exhibit compassion, the better our outcomes might be. When a doctor can sense that deeper compassion is required, we should not await any further or additional prodding to practice it.

About Richard Hom OD, MPA

Dr. Hom holds Doctor of Optometry and Masters in Public Administration degrees and practices family eye care and consults on public policy, health information technology and program evaluation.
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