Frustrated with patients who don’t follow your professional advice?

In episode 20 of “Can I Ask You One Question?”, I ask Dr. Stephen Trzeciak (co-author of Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference) about the connection between compassion and patient outcomes.

Below are the key points from the interview. Scroll down to see the entire interview.

In this episode, we look at compassion not through the moral or sentimental lens, but through the lens of science. We seek to answer the question, “Does compassion move the needle?”

Dr. Trzeciak describes himself as a “research nerd” fascinated with data and research, and all good research nerds start with a hypothesis.

In this case, the hypothesis was that compassion matters for patients, for patient care, and for those who care for patients.

This led to a quasi-systemic review that culminated in the book Compassionomics where they analyzed over a thousand scientific research abstracts, with over 280 original science research papers cited in the book.

When you care deeply for patients, and they know that, they’re more likely to follow treatment recommendations.

Trust is elevated when doctors show compassion. In one study of 1700 HIV patients, when patients feel known as a person, they have 33% odds of adherence to retroviral therapy.

What about diabetics? When treated with maximal compassion, diabetics have an 80% higher odds of optimal blood glucose control!

But wait, there’s more…

They also have 41% lower odds of acute diabetic complications requiring admission to the hospital.

Please reread the above… not a pill or shot… these results are the result of providing more compassionate care. A true WONDER DRUG (the title of Dr. Trzeciak’s new book).

Are patients unsafe in non-compassionate healthcare environments?

Possibly. Where there is depersonalization and inability to connect with patients, there is less meticulous care and medical errors are more likely to occur.

While compassion can’t eliminate pain, it has been shown to alleviate pain (both physical and psychological) in measurable ways.

What about the financial impact of compassion?

Research shows us that where there is more caring and compassion, there is less discretionary resource use, fewer unnecessary diagnostic tests, fewer unnecessary referrals to specialists, and less unnecessary hospital admissions.

And while it’s not the “Why” behind why we treat patients, it’s safe to assume that better compliance with recommendations will lead to higher practice revenues – at least in the optometric field where treatment often involves the sale of products and services.

What about the impact on those who provide care?

Compassion plays a role in reducing burnout among caregivers, helping them build resilience and resistance to burnout.

“Burnout is one of the most expensive things to any healthcare system.”

Much of the focus on reducing burnout among healthcare providers focused on “escapism,” getting away from patient care. The data shows that the key to resilience is relationships.

Things like exercise, nature walks and vacations can be helpful, but they don’t magically make burnout disappear. The real key to reducing burnout is found in compassionately caring for patients and the relationships that flow from that.

“If you don’t have that (the fulfilling part of patient care), then all you have is a really stressful job.”

Check out the video below where Dr. Trzeciak shares his own experience with burnout, and how he spent 25 years believing what he was taught in school that too much caring and compassion will burn you out, as if not caring was an emotional shield.

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