Compassion: An antidote to burnout
In the fast-paced world of healthcare, where doctors and other healthcare providers are often under tremendous pressure to deliver results, there is a growing recognition of the profound impact that compassion can have on both patients and providers.
“[If you have] diabetes and you have a high compassion physician, you have an 80% higher odds of having a normal glucose and cholesterol levels,” said Dr. Anthony Mazzarelli, Co-president and CEO of Cooper University Healthcare.
During his opening keynote speech at the CHIME Fall Forum 2023, Mazzarelli shed light on the concept of “compassionomics” – the study of compassion and its transformative effects on the health of patients, healthcare organizations, and providers.
Impact on Patients
To begin with, humans have a biological response to compassionate care. There are 23 mechanisms in the body that respond to compassion that translate to positive changes in inflammatory markers, Mazzarelli explained. When a patient experiences compassionate care, health outcomes improve.
“When you have a cold and see a doctor who truly cares about you and connects with you, it changes how your body responds to the cold,” Dr. Mazzarelli emphasized. “You recover faster, and your symptoms are less severe.”
Moreover, compassion and connection have been shown to significantly enhance patient adherence to treatment plans. Dr. Mazzarelli referenced a study involving HIV patients, where those who felt their physicians genuinely knew them as individuals were far more likely to adhere to their medication regimens and achieve undetectable levels of HIV in their blood. Compassionate care fosters trust and cooperation, ultimately leading to better health outcomes for patients.
Impact on Healthcare Organizations
Compassion isn’t just a win for patients; it also translates to tangible benefits for healthcare organizations. One major advantage is cost reduction. Hospitals and healthcare systems that prioritize compassion tend to achieve higher patient satisfaction scores, which, in turn, lead to greater patient loyalty.
“When you connect with patients, charges for the year are less in multiple studies. Patient-centered care really reduces how much spending we do in healthcare,” Dr. Mazzarelli explained. “Hospitals that promote compassion are more likely to have the patient want to come back to the system more and more.”
Furthermore, compassionate care has a positive impact on healthcare provider retention rates and burnout. Mazzarelli argues that when healthcare providers feel like they are making a difference, they are less likely to leave.
Impact on Healthcare Providers
“When I was in medical school, I was taught ‘don’t get too close to patients, if you get too close you’re going to get burned out,’” Mazzarelli shared. “But if that were true, then the higher the compassion of those who provide care should have higher burnout. But it turns out, it’s actually the opposite – 90% of studies show it’s the opposite.”
The same principle held true for medical students, nurses, and even healthcare executives.
“So, really, compassion is protection from burnout.”
Current wellness modalities often require solitude, isolation, or some form of escapism from our daily life, Mazzarelli laments. He believes compassion allows us to reduce burnout while remaining in harmony with the demands of daily life.
“The benefits of serving others are immense, from health benefits to organizational benefits, teams perform better, get a better salary, get promoted, and are better at their job, the health of everyone involved improves. It’s pretty amazing,” Mazzarelli said. “There’s some leadership lessons to learn from this.”