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Transformation in Health Care is Nothing Without Humanity
|By Marty Stempniak
H&HN Staff Writer
|September 12, 2012|
A lesson from last day of Mayo's Transform symposium: Don't treat patients like 'a bag of alfalfa.'
Editor's note: H&HN Staff Writer Marty Stempniak blogged this week from the Mayo Clinic's Transform 2012 symposium. This is his final report.
ROCHESTER, MINN. — You can rip down health care all you want and rebuild it into a more ideal state. But all the transformation in the world doesn't really matter if doctors and nurses don't care for their patients with a degree of humanity.
That was one of the main takeaways from the final session yesterday at the Mayo Clinic's Transform 2012 symposium. Innovators from across the globe gathered in Rochester, Minn., this week to share their revelations — from a Facebook-like social media network that gathers hospital data to share among the industry, to a London-based company that maximizes happiness through the consideration of "everything."
The clinic closed its big event with a non-health care guy — writer and radio personality Garrison Keillor — who freely admitted to not understanding half the medical jargon that was spoken by the previous speakers. Keillor related moments of fear and uncertainty in the many times that he's interacted with the country's health care system. But it was the instances of humanity, especially cheerfulness rather than narcissism, that have resonated.
"Whatever can be designed about it, whatever the structure of it is, it is still run by human beings, thank God. And that's who you look for when you go in for health care," he said.
Keillor recalled the time he went in for an MRI. On a coffin-like platform, panic button in his hand, the claustrophobia started to set in. But it was the sincere, calming voice of the technician that pulled him through the paranoia.
"You can hear in her voice, you absolutely can hear, whether she realizes you are a person in there, or are you a bag of alfalfa," Keillor said.
Another time, he had heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic about a decade ago. Straight out of a "science fiction movie," with strange lights and masked people perched over you, Keillor was, again, comforted by the gentle touch of a doctor, and the "angels" with Minnesota accents who greeted him after reappearing from the fog. Comparisons on the opposite side were stark. The "chop shop" in New York that wheeled him around like a "bag of fertilizer," or the place in St. Paul that peppered him with insincere apologies after keeping him waiting.
On Monday, moderator John Hockenberry had a frank and fascinating conversation with Edward Creagan, M.D., palliative medicine consultant at the Mayo Clinic. In the course of his career, Creagan's been "touched" by about 40,000 encounters with the clinically ill, to which Hockenberry asked whether he was perceived as the "grim reaper" at Mayo. Most patients he visits have about a week or so left to live.
Creagan, too, emphasized the need for compassion when treating those on their deathbeds, even if they won't be around to remember it. Ask questions. What was the patient's occupation? How did a couple meet? Is there a pet in the family? In one case, a disheveled 90-year-old man showed up in the ICU in late stages of cancer, with no record of his occupation. After asking, doctors learned that he was J. Robert Oppenheimer, renowned physics professor and a leader of the Manhattan Project.
"This disheveled patient was the chief physicist that designed the atom bomb, and nobody knew it," Creagan says. "So he was not just another CAT scan or another bone scan. He was an exciting piece of history that transformed the world."
In another case, Creagan was in the room when two young girls lost their mother and only other person they had in the world. They stood expressionless by the bedside, and Creagan just remained in the room in silence, not saying a thing. "All we can give is the power of presence," he says.
Through the 40,000 deaths, he's learned to always instill optimism in patients and their families, even with death staring in their face. "Never, ever take away hope," he says.
The opinions expressed by authors do not necessarily reflect the policy of Health Forum Inc. or the American Hospital Association.