In last Tuesday's column, "The Courage of Kindness," I described a report in Health Affairs about the need for people in the field to be more compassionate toward patients. It generated a lot of feedback, and a surprising number of respondents took umbrage at the very idea.

"You think one needs courage to be kind to patients?" asked one writer, who claimed to be an M.D. "You don't need courage, you need time. Isn't saving their life kind enough?"

Others also argued that time is a factor, though with a little more empathy. "We can still be kind to patients even though we're running around like chickens with our heads cut off," wrote an R.N. "But, as much as I'd love to, how can I sit down and hold their hands for any meaningful length of time when I've got two dozen others to see right away and a backlog of paper work?"

Robert Ower, R.N., director of operations for RSI Ambulance Service in Irwindale, Calif., said ED staff he's talked to feel swamped by more and more tasks brought on by "Joint Commission requirements, Healthcare Initiatives, computerized documentation that 'doesn't work' (for the physician or the nurse), Press Ganey scores, Scripting and more. All this being shoved down their throats and you want them to be compassionate?"

Linda Fannon, an LPN in Nevada, said she's worked in a hospital for 36 years. "In the beginning, team work, rounding on patients frequently, talking to family members was always brought up at report or meetings." Now compassion seems to be left out of the equation because of a lot of "distractions," Fannon says. "It only takes that one bad experience to make the whole stay a sad state of affairs for that patient. If nurses and other health care workers would sit down and give their time and an open ear, we may not hear about all that."

Happily, I also received comments from readers eager to tell of kind behavior by health care professionals they've dealt with. I'll share those (and more if you send them to me) in upcoming columns. But I wanted to mention a couple of related developments before signing off this week.

  • The Institute for Healthcare Improvement will hold a free audio program 2-3 p.m. Oct. 5 on "Family Caregiving, Caregivers and Compassion." Among participants will be psychiatrist Arthur Kleinman, M.D., who will discuss what he learned in caring for his dying wife and why all health care professionals should be "more capable of appreciating the power of compassion."
  • Two days after my column came out, Carolyn and Matthew Bucksbaum donated $42 million to the University of Chicago Medical Center to create an institute to help physicians become — and remain — more sensitive in their interactions with patients. "To care for a patient, you have to care about a patient," Dr. Mark Siegler, who will head the Bucksbaum Institute for Clinical Excellence, told the New York Times. The institute will support the development and activities of physicians at three career stages — as medical students, junior faculty and senior clinicians.
  • In a video on the University of Chicago webpage, Carolyn Bucksbaum said, "My advice to an incoming medical student would be: keep the ideals in practicing medicine that imbued you with the idea of becoming a doctor in front of you for the rest of your life."

    My colleague Matthew Weinstock mentioned the Bucksbaum donation in his H&HN Daily column last week about the need to improve doctor-patient communication.

    Bill Santamour is managing editor of Hospitals & Health Networks. Follow his tweets at www.twitter.com/bsantamour.