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Why the Simple Act of Compassion is Often Overlooked As a Panacea to Remedy Our High-Paced, Over-Stressed Society

Posted by Emmi Solutions on Jan 17, 2013 3:10:42 AM

Featured Guest Blogger: Kathryn Norcutt

Kathryn Norcutt Kathryn Norcutt

In our highly driven modern lifestyle, time (or lack thereof) seems to be our greatest commodity. After all for many Americans, time = money, which has subsequently birthed an odd anomaly with many of us in the West; why is it that in a nation that has everything at our beck and call, are we still so miserable? Even with our modern amenities and avaricious needs, these ‘things’ fail to satisfy a longing that emanates from within the fiber of our human core. Despite having the means to satisfy all of our most basic necessities, we are more lonely and disconnected than ever before. With many of today’s modern families consisting of two working parents, overbooked schedules, and careers that encourage mobility, more and more families are not only leaving their native states behind with each subsequent transfer, but they’re also separating familial bindings as well, leaving a giant gap that appears to be filled in the form of over-prescribed pharmaceuticals, substance abuses, and excessive material possessions. This trend can also be reflected in counseling rates which are at an all-time high.

But, if we took a minute to search within ourselves we could very easily find the answer to cure these woes. And it starts with a simple word; compassion.

"Medical doctors and scientific researchers have also come to this same conclusion; that the simple act of kindness, empathy and compassion has far-reaching benefits and depending on the attending doctors or nurses' demeanor can either bring positive or negative impacts to their patient's health status, their (dis-)satisfaction and ultimately, their compliance to treatment."

Compassion[1] is the recognition of another’s suffering and a desire to alleviate that suffering. If you are thinking “why should I care about a word that conjures touchy-feely, new age-y maxims?” Then perhaps the next time you or a loved one find yourself in a hospital setting, you might want to re-think how you choose to view the perspective of compassion. The term ‘bedside manner’ is often used to describe a physician or nurse’s demeanor, as in, how did they treat the patient? Were they gruff and impatient, arrogant and distracted, (or annoyed even) or were they able to sit with them, listen attentively and simply nod while the patient listed their grievances? If we were to compare the two scenarios, how would treatment and overall success rates result if one patient was treated with kindness and compassion versus irritation and rudeness?

The truth is that compassion is a key to overall success and long-term, healthier recovery.

Medical doctors and scientific researchers have also come to this same conclusion; that the simple act of kindness, empathy and compassion has far-reaching benefits and depending on the attending doctors or nurses’ demeanor can either bring positive or negative impacts to their patient’s health status, their (dis-)satisfaction and ultimately, their compliance to treatment. It appears that the prevailing wisdom adhered to by earlier generations of healthcare professionals, has been that compassion cannot really be taught; it is either in you or it isn’t. But many would beg to differ.

"Try hard as we like to fill our busy lives with social media sites, sports tournaments, and bigger and bigger housess- we are fighting against what is an essential human component; to connect with each other."

As a matter of fact, according to the 2008 study by the Stony Brook University Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics[2], ongoing research has revealed exciting news in the correlation between neuroscience and human behavior. By studying the brains of highly compassionate individuals, Tibetan Monks, and a group of lay people who were given two weeks to learn similar meditative techniques, researchers used MRI images of the brain while both subject groups were exposed to compassion-inducing stimuli. They were asked to concentrate on providing compassionate feelings and conversely were also asked to refrain. The evidence was startling. Not only did it reveal that the insula (the emotional region of the brain) was highly active in both groups, but also in the temporal parietal juncture (right hemisphere) which has been proven to demonstrate our ability in perceiving the mental and emotional well-being of others. With the more experienced subjects, the areas had stronger activity, but it is the idea that the brain can ‘learn’ to be more compassionate, simply by following the similar meditation techniques that those who are well-versed in the practice consistently do.

So what does this mean to the medical community? Plenty!

Not only will compassion carry over to the general public at large, but we as humans are hard-wired for connectivity, for acceptance and care. Try as hard as we like to fill our busy lives with social media sites, sports tournaments, and bigger and bigger houses-- we are fighting against what is an essential human component; to connect with each other. It doesn’t matter that you have a legion of Facebook ‘likes’, if you cannot talk on an intimate level with any of those 500 so-called ‘friends’, how can you connect and release the burden of daily stresses? Compassion Meditation has been scientifically demonstrative of reducing levels of neuroendocrine inflammatory and behavioral responses to psycho-social stress[3]. This in turns creates a cycle of positivity; when we show compassion we are far more able to accept and re-feed it back into our community and our lives.

The remedy to combat chronic pain and suffering is altruism and compassion.

Compassion is certainly not a modern concept, but maybe it can become more fully embraced not only in our medical community but in our daily lives as well. And by following the sage advice long adhered to by one of our medical forebears, “Some patients, though conscious that their condition is perilous, recover their health simply through their contentment with the goodness of the physician.” - Hippocrates 460-400 B.C.

About the Author: Kathryn Norcutt has been an active member of the health care community for over 20 years. During her time as a nurse, she has helped people from all walks of life and ages. Now, Kathryn leads a much less hectic life and devotes most of her free time to writing for RNnetwork.


[1] http://ccare.stanford.edu/content/science-compassion

[2] http://www.news.wisc.edu/14944

[3]http://www.tibet.emory.edu/research/documents/EffectofcompassionmeditationonneuroendocrineinnateimmuneandbehavioralresponsestostressPaceFINAL.pdf

Topics: behavior change, Patient Communication, Bedside manner, Satisfaction, Patient-Centered Care, patient engagement, Evidence-Based Medicine, compassion, Patient Safety, patient experience, empathy, Clinical Outcomes, Patient Education

Engaging the Patient

The news and opinions offered on "Engaging the Patient" are designed to inform, engage and inspire readers to take action in improving healthcare for both healthcare organizations and the populations they serve. If you have questions or would like to be a featured guest blogger, please include your contact information in the comments or contact us directly at marketing@emmisolutions.com

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