What if We Could Improve the Quality of Patient Care & Improve Practitioner Wellbeing in One Go?

As patient numbers and the demands on health and care professionals have risen, the term patient care has become somewhat of an oxymoron. Healthcare has become a business, and health and care professionals have begun to feel forced to rush through patient lists and tick boxes for medical aid schemes and are now very seldom able to practice the kind of quality patient care that they envisioned when they began their careers. This is taking an enormous emotional toll, and it is hardly surprising that many healthcare professionals report some degree of burnout. Exacerbated by the pandemic, this disconnect between organisational expectations and core professional values is causing many health and care professionals to leave the field, which in-turn is increasing the demand and pressure on those who remain in the field. This is a worrying trend that could potentially cripple health and care services across the globe.

Suppporting Healthcare Professional Wellbeing

Although there is an awareness regarding this growing concern, and efforts are being made to address it, the conditions are unlikely to improve as long health and care remain business oriented and profit margins remain a priority. This means that remedial and support efforts remain focused on strengthening the individuals within the system so that they can better manage the increasing demands and pressures. There is a plethora of research regarding effective ways to support health and care professionals and although many prove to be effective, the sustainability of the effects has proven less certain. So short of magical super-powers, how do we support health and care professionals so that they can stay connected to their core professional values, provide authentic patient-centred care and sustain quality healthcare systems?

Mindfulness Makes for Happier, Healthier Professionals

The emergence of mindfulness practice has been shown to help healthcare providers to better cope with these demands and it opens up a way of practicing healthcare which not only leaves them feeling more fulfilled through the work that they do, but also creates a space for quality interactions with patients. This means that health and care professionals who practice mindfulness are not only supporting their own wellbeing, but are also improving the service they provide by being more present to their patients and clients. This allows them to re-centralise the patient and really engage with patient-centred care, which is a welcome balm after years of paying lip-service to the concept of patient-centred care. Mindfulness creates the space to really embrace this approach so that patients can benefit from being cared for in a way that is warm, open, respectful and comprehensive, while professionals can practice in a way that allows them to feel fulfilled and rewarded by their work. So how exactly does it do that?

Mindfulness Meets Patient-Centred Care

If we use Shauna Shapiro’s IAA model, and the qualities of mindfulness she proposes: intention, attention and attitude, we can clearly see how mindfulness impacts patient-centred care and supports practitioner wellbeing. Firstly, our intention is the answer to why we do anything. As John Kabat-Zinn explains: “Your intentions set the stage for what is possible. They remind you from moment to moment why you are practicing.” Rather than being fixed, intention is dynamic and shifts and evolves as we continue to practice. For health and care professionals, staying connected with the why of our work is paramount as it helps us to make meaning of it, even when it gets really tough.

Secondly, mindful attention is a focus on one’s internal and external experience of the moment. In mindfulness we pay attention in to what is happening in a way that is open and compassionate. We’re aware of our thoughts and interpretations of the experience, but they do not cloud our embodied experience of the moment. In patient-centred care, this allows us to really be present to the patient without the distraction of all the other things we need to be doing, or being driven by our agenda for the patient and what we think is best for them. This kind of attention requires a specific attitude regarding how we attend. In mindfulness, we hold an attitude of open, patient, non-striving, non-judgmental curiosity. We listen to our patients to really understand them and their needs beyond their diagnosis and the agenda that we might have regarding treatment and care. This allows us to create an individual and patient-specific care-plan.

How Mindfulness Impacts Quality Patient-Centred Care & Practitioner Wellbeing

From the above, we can see that as we practice mindfulness, we become more attuned to our intention to care for our patients in a way that is aligned with our values. We are more attentive and present with our patients and we hold an attitude of curiosity and compassion. So how do we find the time to practice in this way? This attentive, compassionate approach to care where we give our patients our undivided attention surely must take more time, and professionals have less and less time. Interestingly, this type of practice has been shown not to take any more time at all. In fact, because patients feel that their care provider is really present, they are less demanding and needy, they understand and accept their treatment and care-plans more readily, and the lack of distraction on the part of the care provider means fewer errors, which also equates to time saved. So, you end up with happier more content patients and less frazzled health and care professionals.

I am interested to hear what you think about mindfulness and patient-centred care, please use the comment box below to connect with me and give me your thoughts. If you found this article interesting or helpful, please like and share it on your favourite social media platforms. To find out more about how you can work with me to start to practice more mindfully to improve the quality of your service and support your own wellbeing, please contact me directly. Thank you.

Featured Image by Pieter Bouwer sourced from Unsplash.

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