It's National Patient Recognition Week
What do you say, what can you do when someone you love is bedridden in a hospital or suffering from a serious disease? To kick-off National Patient Recognition Week, a week-long observance beginning to demonstrate the importance of compassion, empathy, and connection, Dr. Sharon Langshur, a co-founder of CarePages.com, has some simple advice for patients' friends, families and caregivers.
Say or do something.
"Even if you just admit 'I don't know what to say,' you're showing that you care enough to make the effort to communicate," says Dr. Langshur, whose company is healthcare's largest social network connecting patients and caregivers to communities of support. "Take the risk of trying to express your feelings, which is much better than having the patient think you're avoiding the elephant in the room."
National Patient Recognition Week was founded in 1995 to honor patients and give healthcare organizations the opportunity to "demonstrate that patients' needs go beyond the technical aspects of care to include compassion, empathy, and connection." A former pediatrician who created CarePages.com after her son was born with a heart defect, Dr. Langshur has these tips from CarePages members, which also are featured in the book she co-authored, "We Carry Each Other."
-- Allow patients to set the mood in conversations; if they want to laugh, or vent, or cry, just go with it and be empathetic.
-- Avoid cliches such as "a positive attitude is everything," or, "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger."
-- Ask about what they're going through and just listen; don't interject stories about people you know who have been in similar situations, since patients want to tell their stories.
-- When you offer to help, be specific (for example, "let me drive you to the doctor tomorrow"); don't put the onus on the patient to tell you what to do.
-- Acknowledge physical changes in an encouraging way without being Pollyannaish, and remind the patient how special he or she is.
CarePages.com facilitates compassionate caregiving by providing free, private web pages that enable patients and caregivers to communicate and connect with each other. Nearly 700 healthcare facilities in North America currently offer customized versions of CarePages.com to their patients as part of their patient-centered care.
"Every hospital participating in National Patient Recognition Week should be congratulated for taking action to give patients more emotional support," said Dr. Langshur. "Our research shows that patients -- as well as their families and friends -- would appreciate more help in this area."
In a November 2007 survey of nearly 900 CarePages.com members and visitors, more than 92% said they would like to see healthcare providers be more proactive in providing emotional support. About two-thirds of respondents indicated that doctors and nurses could benefit from training that focuses on compassion and empathy.