Who has time for mindfulness during a busy day? Much less compassion? But these may be the key to avoiding burnout and providing the care you can be proud of.
Check out our BurntOut simulation, where students can 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 on the Burntout website.
In the practice of medicine, it is often expedient to ignore or avoid emotional engagement and to focus on both the science and the task at hand. Unfortunately, that strategy comes with a cost. The long-term implications of applying a “keep a distance” strategy may be quite negative.
One means to address the emotional challenge and cognitive difficulties of the practice of medicine is to employ strategies associated with mindfulness. The earlier blog Mindfulness to Counter Burnout discussed the value of mindfulness curriculum integrated into an ER clerkship. Amutio-Kareaga et. outlined the general benefits of employing a mindfulness and compassion strategy in patient encounters.
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.
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, enhances the quality of care, and yields improved outcomes. Better yet, it can lead to decreased burnout and reverse negative self-images seen in burned out providers.
So during a patient encounter, it may be more effective to take the time to express compassion and work with the patient. But the problem remains. Who has the time?
The authors provide a brief mindfulness technique (“three-minute breathing space”) that can improve communication and treatment effectiveness. Three minutes is still a long time during a day with back to back clinical obligations, but the effort may pay off with a patient that benefits from thoughtful communication.
Both academic and medical centers have produced mindfulness educational sessions for employees, providers, and patients. Developing mindfulness skills and deploying mindfulness need not be overly time-consuming. And “being in the present” can improve understanding, decision-making, and actions taken in the course of treatment. Compassion is also key for physicians and future physicians to employ in terms of avoiding burnout.
Meaningful patient communication drives both processes but 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 guide the ultimate decision 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.