Don’t oversell ‘compassionate medicine’

Kindness from his hospital colleagues is hardly a revelation

IN A RECENT Commonwealth commentary, Douglas Brown, chief of UMass Memorial Community Hospitals and chief administrative officer, writes about the surgery he underwent at the hospital where he is an executive leader.

As he was waiting anxiously for his surgery, he received a text from the chief of medicine.  The next day he received a call from the same doctor.  No surprise that Andy, the chief, and Doug,  the executive leader, were on a first name basis. That can make you feel a little less anxious.

Subsequently he had an interaction with a stressed-out resident lacking compassion, who clearly did not know who he was talking to. He then encountered a very helpful and kind nurse practitioner who guided him deftly and humanely on his healing path.

“The kindness. The timing. The thought behind it,” he writes. “It was the perfect medicine for me at that moment to ease my anxiety. And he somehow knew it. It didn’t stop there. The next day, as I was home and groggy after surgery, my cell phone rang ….”

Yes, it was Andy, again. And of the nurse practitioner, Brown wrote: “She gave me her cell phone number and encouraged me to call if I had any questions. I gave her the full update. And she listened. We left feeling so much more comfortable. Mary Kay not only listened; she showed us she cared.”

Do we think Mary Kay didn’t know who he was?

He continues: “So what is it about this soft stuff? Have we been thinking about medicine all wrong? Could small acts of compassion be just as important to our healing as highly advanced technical skills?”

This insipid and sentimental goo is unworthy of being published in Commonwealth. So much more is wrong with our health care system than just the doctors not demonstrating compassion.  It boggles the mind that the kindness he did receive from his own colleagues at his own hospital was a revelation.

Brown adds insult to injury when he tells us that this is backed up by medical research, the ultimate authority for human belief and behavior. We are so fortunate that the doctors proved to us that kindness and compassion actually has positive effects on human beings.  What if their research had not been able to demonstrate that?

Have they all missed the memo from Hillel, Jesus, and the Buddha and other saints and prophets throughout human history?

Meet the Author
There are a host of critical systemic problems plaguing health care in our country: how it is funded, how it is organized, how doctors are trained.  Medicine should be a calling, a vocation that lifts up human beings (doctors as well as patients).  Instead, health care is a very big business that is driven by money.

Brown needs to go further in his analysis and understand that if dollars are central to the system, then people cannot be.  Such is the ailment afflicting our system, not doctors not being nice to patients in their 30 second interactions.

Joel Neiditz lives in Roslindale.