Caring doctor is the best Rx
Study: Kindness better than drugs for treating colds
Purge your medicine cabinet of cold medication and find yourself a doctor who empathizes with you during times of illness. You may recover faster.
A new study conducted by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health published in the July issue of Family Medicine found people recover faster from the common cold when their doctor is compassionate. The research focused on 350 patients from primary care clinics in southern Wisconsin.
Researchers found participants encountered three types of doctors: ones who did not interact with the patient, ones who provided the standard discussion of medical history and current illness, and ones where the doctor delved deeper into the nature of the illness and displayed concern for the patient.
The patients rated their doctors on a questionnaire using the following criteria: Did the doctor make them feel at ease, allow them to tell their side of the story and listen closely to the answer, understand what they said, act positive, provide clear explanations, and help them take control by creating an action plan?
The 84 patients who gave their doctors a perfect score in these areas recovered from their cold a full day before the other patients did, thus skipping the gastro-intestinal side effects some cold medicines may impart.
Also, when researchers measured the immune cells in the secretions from the nasal washes, these 84 patients built immunity to their cold within 48 hours after their first visit.
The results of this study did not surprise Dr. Joan Covault, family practitioner with the Provena Medical Group in New Lenox or Lauren Diegel-Vacek, assistant professor at the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Lewis University in Romeoville.
Both Covault and Diegel-Vacek said that cultivating an empathetic attitude was part of their medical training and they've witnessed encouraging results by practicing it.
"If I take the time to actually listen to the patient's story and show not only empathy for them, but true compassion, I think that does a lot to speed the healing process," Covault said.
Covault said when patients feel no one listens to them, a negative attitude develops within them and they may be sick longer than if they believe someone cares about them.
"There is a lot to be said about the interaction between mind, body and spirit and positive support can make a difference," Covault said. "I don't mean that people need to wait on you hand and foot if you're sick. But if people are saying you look pale and worn out, you might not feel like you can keep going. However, if someone asks how you feel and that you look better, people tend to have a brighter outlook and get well sooner."
She believes that sympathetic concern for the patient combined with education on the correct use of antibiotics and alternative suggestions for symptom relief is all that most patients need to beat a cold.
"When a patient comes in with the mindset of, 'I'm really sick and I need this antibiotic,' when it's only an upper respiratory virus, that's the patient who's going to call back frequently," Covault said.
"As nurse practitioners we put ourselves in the other person's shoes," she said. "We try to understand where they're coming from and how this acute illness is affecting their day to day life. I think that helps you to connect with them better and it encourages them to open up about and tell you other things that will guide you into helping them feel better."
When a health care provider can facilitate a compassionate discussion with the patient, the patient will often become a partner in his or her own healing process.
"The patients tend to be more compliant with the recommendations and also be much more satisfied with the visit in general," Diegel-Vacek said. "I think that can be a big key to promoting better outcomes for patients when they're ill."