Doctor-Patient Relationships = Happier, Healthier People

Doctor-Patient Relationships (2)Many people choose to become doctors because they care about helping others, but the realities of practicing medicine sometimes get in the way of expressing compassion.

As this recent physician-penned column notes, the administrative and business requirements of caring for patients often prevent providers from spending time conversing  and empathizing with patients. That’s too bad, because the relationship between physician and patient can be powerful. Consider the data. 

Compassionate care, or care designed to recognize and address patients’ and families’ emotional as well as health needs, has been shown to lead to higher patient satisfaction rates. Given the rising emphasis on patient satisfaction for hospital ratings and reimbursement, this is clearly an appealing outcome for providers. But it gets better, because compassionate care also improves patients’ actual health outcomes.

I’m not sure there is an easy solution to the dilemma. The paperwork has to get done, and often the doctors are the ones in the position to do it. The concept of “practicing at the top of your license” suggests that each health care professional should focus on the most complicated tasks he or she is trained to do, but realistically speaking, can staffing support this while still meeting basic administrative requirements?

I think part of the solution lies in freeing doctors and other providers to build a strong relationship with their patients early on, so that there is an ongoing sense of compassion that withstands too-brief appointments. Technology can also ease the administrative burden on health care professionals, with time and strategic implementation. There will probably never be enough time in the work day for doctors to spend “enough” time with patients, but given the powerful evidence that it is time well-spent, shouldn’t we try?