It is often expedient to look past one’s emotional experience and to focus on both the science and the task at hand in the practice of medicine. Unfortunately, the long-term implications of applying that strategy frequently may be quite negative. During a patient encounter, it may be more efficient to take the time to express compassion and work with the patient.
One means to address the emotional challenge and cognitive difficulties of the practice of medicine is to employ strategies associated with mindfulness.
Amutio-Kareaga Alberto, García-Campayo Javier, Delgado Luis Carlos, Hermosilla Daniel, Martínez-Taboada Cristina. Improving Communication between Physicians and Their Patients through Mindfulness and Compassion-Based Strategies: A Narrative Review. J Clin Med. March 17, 2017;6(3). doi:10.3390/jcm6030033.
A common problem in medicine is the limited availability of time. However, some researchers have started to investigate brief strategies related to the deployment of mindfulness. Multiple articles over the past few years have looked into the value of mindfulness meditation, and both academic and medical centers have produced mindfulness educational sessions for employees, providers, and patients. Helping all participants in the medical care process be in the now can improve understanding, decision-making, and actions taken in the course of treatment.
It’s also important for physicians and future physicians to realize the importance of compassion in terms of avoiding burnout. On this note, the article points out that patient communication is not a one-size-fits-all solution. One should match one’s communication strategy with the readiness and the willingness of the patient to communicate or take control over their care. For example, a patient who wants a lot of information and to be the key decision maker should be given the information and time to provide a serious review of options and thoughtful review of their condition so that they can make a treatment decision with which they are comfortable.
Alternatively, it is not helpful to swamp an individual that is unwilling to investigate diagnostic and treatment options with information far beyond what they can understand or accept. In these situations, it may be more effective to focus on emotional support and other means to improve their emotional strength and confidence, and their ability to manage their health challenges.
Research by Amutio-Kareaga et al. on mindfulness shows benefits in terms of patient communication, patient interactions, and the development of empathy. Mindfulness training works alongside patient-centered care, enhancing the quality of care and yielding improved outcomes. Better yet, it can lead to decreased burnout and reverse negative self-images seen in burned out providers.
We have been working on the development of two products that may help medical students learn better patient communication skills and practice mindfulness during the patient interaction process.
- The Clinical Encounters Platform and broader ecosystem help users to create and complete cases that assist in improving and assessing success associated with the cognitive challenge of diagnosis, a clear source of stress. In the simulations, we can identify ethically challenging situations where the process of care limits the ability to act in the patient’s best interest. We can both assess if a conflict exists and offer means to resolve the conflict or simply to acknowledge it. You can read more about the Clinical Encounters platform at its website.
- In the BurntOut simulation, we seek to provide a data-driven remedy for the disturbing burnout seen in medical students and practicing physicians. In the simulation, students practice coping strategies to improve their resilience and assess the impact on both patient responses and personal stress. Hands-on scenarios deepen medical student understanding of how to address and overcome burnout during game-play and beyond. You can read more about the BurntOut game at its website.