News & Events

Both MDs, patients in favor of kindly care

Both MDs, patients in favor of kindly care

By Elizabeth Cooney

Globe Correspondent / November 16, 2010

A compassionate caregiver who focuses on good communication and providing emotional support can make the difference between life and death for a hospitalized patient, the majority of doctors and patients said in a national survey to be released today by a Boston advocacy organization.

Dr. Beth Lown — a Mount Auburn Hospital internist and medical director of the survey’s sponsor, the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare — said she was encouraged that most doctors thought such factors could make a difference in whether a patient lives or dies.

“I think this is a knockout,’’ she said in an interview. Some “doctors feel that medical skills and scientific knowledge are the only things that turn into good outcomes. . . . I think all patients have always wanted emotional support, but it hasn’t always been in the doctors’ lexicon.’’

The survey found that doctors and patients agree on the importance of most but not all components of compassionate care, which include showing respect, listening attentively, giving information in a way that is understandable, involving the patient in medical decisions, and treating the patient as a person and not a disease. But patients see a gap between the compassionate care they believe they should get and the care they say they received in the hospital, according to the telephone survey. For example, while 91 percent of patients believed doctors should listen attentively, only 67 percent said that is what happened when they were in the hospital.

Eight hundred patients who had been hospitalized in the past 18 months for at least three days and 500 doctors who cared for patients in the hospital were questioned in September and October. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for questions asked of patients and 4.4 points for questions asked of doctors. Patients and doctors agreed on the importance of clinicians’ showing sensitivity to patients while involving them in decision making about their care. But while 78 percent of patients rated getting test results in a timely manner as a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, only 61 percent of doctors rated it that high.

Asked how important it is for doctors to apologize for mistakes, three-quarters of patients rated that a 10, while only a little over half of doctors did.

About half of patients said their caregivers provided compassionate care while they were in the hospital. Three-quarters of the doctors said health professionals gave compassionate care.

Most patients said they were satisfied with their time in the hospital. But two-thirds said they are worried that changes in the heath care system will make it more difficult to receive compassionate care. A little over half of the doctors agreed.

The survey made no mention of the federal health care overhaul.

Elizabeth Cooney can be reached at