Are you in a caring relationship?
I don’t mean with a spouse, parent, child, or friend. I mean with your health care provider.
Does your doctor care–-really care? And if not, does it matter? Who cares?
It turns out, lots of people do. According to an April 23 "Newsweek" magazine article, patients report that when “their doctors focused more on their feelings and worries and listened to them carefully, they not only felt better but objective measures showed they had fewer symptoms of disease.” In other words, when physicians showed they cared, people felt cared for, and in fact, were.
But the same magazine warns that the end of the doctor patient relationship may be here, and that’s bad news for good health care. Well-meaning pressure to reduce costs in health care have forced doctors to see more patients, each for shorter periods of time, and now there are more changes in primary care physicians for each patient as employers switch insurance carriers. The result: little or no stability in the doctor-patient relationship. Add to this, the fact that surveys report doctors don’t listen enough (they interrupt within the first 23 seconds). Patients don’t understand their instructions (fully half the time), and you have a perfect storm of disconnect between doctors and patient—a breach, hardly a bond.
But there’s good news, too. Applicants to medical schools are now being evaluated for their communication skills as much as scores. Once admitted, medical students are being taught more of these communication skills. Doctors are working more in teams of other physicians, assistants, nurse practitioners and pharmacists, a model known as a medical home for the patient. Physicians care about improving the delivery system, and they’re showing it.
Many years ago I awoke one night in severe pain. My husband was away on business and I had a toddler asleep in the next room. I had to choose a reliable form of health care, and I knew I had to act fast. As a Christian Scientist accustomed to prayer as my first response for health needs, I called a friend who has relied on prayer for many decades. He agreed to pray with me. He listened carefully, gave me reassuring words about God’s presence, touched me with his quick willingness to help, and made me feel in control and no longer helpless. I felt loved and cared for. The pain faded, I went back to sleep and awoke in the morning refreshed and completely well.
It turns out that all the elements of my experience: someone listening to the patient, making sense instead of increasing fear, reaching out to touch the patient, and giving a sense of control—these were the exact elements the Newsweek article identified as necessary for better health through a better relationship with the provider.
In this case, it was not so much a person, but God. To me, this God is Love, and this Love is forever showing his or her infinite care for us. Turning prayerfully to God in health cases like this has always made me feel safe and cared for.
Research points to the importance of spiritual approaches to health care. Studies from American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) show 77 percent of patients believe their spiritual health is as important as their physical health and should be discussed in treatment; yet spiritual health is discussed only 10-20 percent of the time.
As well, 75 percent of studies referred to in the article show the positive effect of religious commitment, including prayer, on health. Prevention, coping, and recovery from illness are the outcomes, and this fact underscores the need for doctors and patients who pray to communicate better.
Prayer is care. Many are finding that adding this element to their health care choices is answering the question “Who cares?”
(Cynthia Barnett is the Media/Legislative Representative for the The Christian Science Committee on Publication, NC.)