How to talk with doctors efficiently? Compassion is highest form of leadership
Renowned Boston liver diseases expert and leadership scholar, Dr. Sanjiv Chopra, speaks on compassionate care and how to make physician-patient communication more efficient:
You study leadership and you have a huge experience in medicine. Leadership is about taking the right decisions at the right time. So from a patient perspective, when a family or person encounters a new medical problem in the family or with herself or himself, what can а family do to navigate the medical problem and find the best solution? What are common mistakes to avoid? That’s a great question. I think before we even talk about what can the family do, I think what we as the people in health care delivery need to do is that we need to be very very compassionate. We need to cultivate compassion. And you can cultivate leadership and you can cultivate compassion by a very simple technique. And the technique is meditation. And if we meditate on a regular basis, ideally twice a day – once in the morning, second time later in the afternoon or early evening, then these things happen automatically. That compassion grows, kindness grows, creativity grows, fluency grows. We are better communicators. So I would encourage everyone to at least explore meditation. I have a saying “You should meditate once a day, and if you don’t have time to do that, you should meditate twice a day.” Because then you really need it. So we as caregivers need to be very kind, and the Talmud says: “Compassion is the highest form of wisdom.” So any interaction we have with patients and their families, it has to start at that level of compassion and communication. Drawing diagrams, explaining things. If you still see doubt in their mind, just say to them, “If this was my relative, if this was my brother, if this was my father, if this was my mother I would be recommending exactly what I’m recommending to you as a consultant.” Once you do that – it immediately – it happened so many times – the family will feel relieved and will trust you. And the most important thing that people look for in somebody with authority, somebody in a leadership position, there are four things: Stability, Empathy, Trust and Hope. Stability, empathy, trust and hope. And Napoleon was once asked to define a leader, and he said, “It’s a very simple definition: a leader is a dealer in hope.” One of the best things that patients can do is have family meetings and say: “You know, the doctor will be coming later this morning or afternoon to visit mom, or aunt, or dad, what questions should we ask?” And then write them down, because what happens is when the physician comes, he or she often stands at the foot end of the bed. The family and the patient think he’s going to turn on his heels and walk away. He could stand for 20 minutes and they think he spent two minutes. I learned 30 years ago, maybe even longer, from a colleague of mine, Dr. Mark Peppercorn, He said: “When you go for rounds, pull up a chair and sit down. You could spend five minutes and the patients will think that you gave them all the time. And before you leave, ask the question, ‘Do you have any questions for me?’ You know what, you may think of questions as I walk out, or when the family comes to visit you this evening. You have a piece of paper and a pen, write them down. When I come later this evening or tomorrow morning, we’ll talk about it.” I think we need to do that, and we need to empower the families to feel very comfortable looking at somebody in authority and asking them questions. And amongst the questions I encourage my patients and friends of mine, who are dealing with a serious medical issue is to ask their doctor, surgeon and radiotherapist: “What would you do if this is a member of your family?” And that will hopefully give you the right answer and a very honest answer. So this is very important! When I spoke to Professor Lawrence Cohn, a pioneer in cardiac surgery, he said: “Most importantly, you have to ask the doctor all the questions that are on your mind. Don’t hold back and ask the hard questions.” – Yes, but write them down, because I think people forget and we all do that. And sometimes you get intimidated with this professor who walks and surrounded by fellows and residents and students and nurses and there’s this whole big group. And you might feel intimidated and then you might forget and get distracted. So write the questions down, – It’s very important.