A quest to restore emotional care in medicine

January 31, 2023
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Doctors become doctors out of a passion for helping and a fascination with the human body, mind, and life. Sadly, this need to provide care is suppressed by bureaucracy and a health system focused on quantity instead of quality, organs instead of a person. Medicine has become ICD-oriented. Year by year, burnout replaces enthusiasm.

With growing frustration, the values of medicine are eroding

Healthcare professionals are frustrated, and so are the patients—both are missing the connection that makes the medicine art: empathy, relationship, time to talk, support and trust. And these are necessary for a precise diagnosis and patient adherence, impacting the success of a treatment or prevention, and even mental health. "I dream about having more time for my patients and their families. Time to talk about their doubts with no stopwatch ticking in my head. Time to emotional care," says Batlomiej Zalewski, a pediatrician and a team lead at Doctor.One. Any doctor would agree with this view. According to a study published in PubMed, doctors interrupt patients after 11 seconds. Because they have to.

Healthcare has got stuck in the status quo

Yet, the advancements in new technologies are changing so many aspects of our lives for the better. Amazon knows the needs of its 310 million customers, while doctors, overburdened with administrative work, don't have time to understand their patients. Individuals aren't waiting for breakthrough innovations to be adopted in the health system. Instead, they are using them instinctively whenever they seek better care or advice—the psychological need for safety, and health as its subcategory, is deeply ingrained in our genes. According to recent studies, most individuals search for symptoms online. Patients ask friends for tips, request a second opinion, and install apps to guide them toward better well-being. Patients are becoming engaged in their health, and this is a good thing. But this is also an early sign of declining trust in doctors. Or rather—in the health system regulating the way doctors work.

Restart for better care

For the breakdown of the relationship between a doctor and their patient, there is ONE cure: more time that creates space for co-designing a path to better health and restoring interpersonal warmth. Today, this time can be extended beyond synchronous interactions in the doctor's office or over the phone. Just like businesses using communication tools like Slack, doctors and patients can apply smarter and more secure ways to stay in touch. This is not some utopian vision but a norm that we've forgotten about, a narrative of healthcare threatened with extinction. Doctors and patients want the same: time to listen and to be listened to. This missing time has been stolen by health workforce shortages and bureaucracy, according to Zalewski. Therefore, we have to remodel care delivery and release a feature of healthcare everybody yearns for: the human touch embodied in an authentic and empathetic doctor-patient relationship, trust, care constructed of physical healing and mental support. Scientific and technological progress can help if smartly applied. "Care is when a patient and I together discuss the problem and choose the best possible solution. When we form one team working on preventing diseases or planning a path to cure them. When a patient can rely on me," concludes Zalewski.