Twenty four years after my post-grad studies in health care admin, 13 years after my experience at the department of health, 12 years after the birth of my youngest son with an extra chromosome, ten years after my work as a volunteer on a family council, seven years after the start of my family engagement career, I have finally found the answer that I have been looking for.
What is the key to patient and family centred care, patient engagement, patient experience, patient satisfaction and communication? Love. Love is the answer, my friends.
Three years ago, I read a profound essay called Love, a word that medicine fears, written by a family physician named Kirsten Meisinger. Dr. Meisinger finally uttered the word that I’d been skirting around all these years. I had been speaking about listening, perspective taking, empathy, caring, compassion, and humanity in health care. These are all euphemisms for one word: love.
Love means a deep caring for patients, their families, each other and ourselves. If we can open our hearts to those who are fragile, vulnerable and in pain, we will change the landscape of the health care world. This means dismantling the brick walls around our hearts that are built by egos, perfectionism, professionalism and fear. This means demonstrating what is in your heart by a gentle touch, a kind word, or a thoughtful gesture.
Fellow health care rebels, love is the great revolution in health care, for love is at the very core of health care. Here’s what you can do: create space, time, systems and environments where caring is celebrated, encouraged and rewarded. Model the compassionate culture you want to see by being compassionate to people lost in the hallways, the housekeeping staff, your colleagues and yourself. Make the time to actively listen to people’s stories. Offer to staff the time to be still, reflect and acknowledge their own pain so they can be open to another’s pain. Teach our students well to lend their gentle hearts to those in need, and how to softly save love for themselves so they can go home to their families at night. Count empathies, not efficiencies. Shed artificial roles to make person-to-person connections, not provider to patient ones.
All this love will build and build, until it finally reaches the tipping point. Only then will we get to the true purpose of health care, and that is to care for other human beings. The answer to all of your struggles lives in your own hearts. If you slow down, close your eyes and be quiet, you will hear it whispering to you.
The older I get, the less I know. The only thing I’ve really figured out about life after all these years is this one true thing: love is what heals people. It is the gentle hearts that will create change in this beautiful, messed up world.
(originally published in the Health Care Rebels Central blog).