May 13-15, I’m heading to the Patient Experience Conference at Cleveland Clinic where Dr. Jonathan Bean, our research partner from Harvard Medical School will be presenting the results of a study using Wellpepper to deliver an interactive care plan for people between 65 and 85 who are at risk of adverse events. We’re excited about the positive clinical outcomes he saw, but more importantly, about the ability for technology to deliver empathy in patient care.
The ultimate in empathy is to “walk a mile in someone’s shoes.” While this is often not physically possible, if you can emotionally understand someone else’s view this is the beginning of empathy. Research shows that reading fiction increases empathy, but I can imagine that non-fiction like Dr Rana Awdish’s compelling and gripping “In Shock” would do the same. Dr Awdish chronicles her near-death experience and subsequent recovery at the hospital where she practices. By becoming a patient with the mind of a doctor, she is able to deeply experience and understand both sides of a situation: the doctor who sees a case, and the patient who is so much more than a collection of symptoms. As a patient she experiences incorrect diagnoses, not being believed or listened to, arrogance, and condescension. As a physician, she struggles with her training to not get involved emotionally involved with patients and to shrug off traumatic events with her newfound understanding that experiencing pain is the only way to really empathize and connect with each other, and the only thing that will enable physicians to truly deliver care.
The book can be read as case study of experiences from both sides of the equation as Dr. Awdish struggles to make sense of her experiences, and learn how well-meaning instructions can result in the wrong outcome. For example, Dr Awdish reflects on her medical school and residency training and how it was designed to search for diagnosis not for meaning.
“We weren’t trained to listen. We were trained to ask questions that steered people to a destination”
When she’s taken to emergency and immediately steered to OB despite her protestations that the problem is not the pregnancy it’s something else, she directly experiences the impact of this training.
When Awdish is admitted to the hospital for bed rest during later pregnancy, her room becomes a defacto support group for medical professionals who need somewhere to properly process and sometimes grieve patient outcomes. This community defies their training which was to shrug off the emotions, and it’s during this period that Awdish comes to her hypothesis that switching communication may have the most powerful impact of all.
“This way of questioning, this recommendation built on empathy and a patient-centered narrative has the potential to heal everyone involved.”
Awdish is full of hope that the medical community can change. She’s a frequent lecturer and has won awards for building empathy and communication programs. The book also includes a study guide, and is being included in medical school curriculum.
You can hear Dr Awdish read from her book in this clip, or follow her on twitter @RanaAwdish