Compassion in Healthcare: Preserving Compassion Amidst a Pandemic

Compassion in Healthcare: Preserving Compassion Amidst a Pandemic

Preserving Compassion Amidst a Pandemic

By Liliane de Vries

A reality often overlooked when reflecting on pandemics is that compassion swiftly becomes an unexpected casualty. Historically, this has proven to be true, and although the severity and scope of pandemics vary, the erosion of communities during crisis appears almost certain.

London’s Great Plague ravaged society and drove a wedge between human relations, prompting the public to view one another as threats rather than neighbours. 1918’s Spanish Flu overwhelmed health workers, and their pleas for volunteers to assist the sick remained largely unheard. In both instances, after the dust settled, the affected communities experienced social and spiritual fracturing.

The recent pandemic, COVID-19, threatens a similar offence against compassion, isolating everyone (the public, caregivers, and first responders) into their own separate pockets of society. Fortunately, we can take steps now to avoid following in the footprints of history and chart ourselves a different course. 

What is compassion and why is it vital to healthcare?

In its most distilled form, compassion translates to the ability to understand and sympathize with others suffering from hardship. More importantly, it is the animating force that allows us to recognize a circumstance that requires remedy and drives us to intervene.

Compassion, kindness, and concern for others motivates action during crisis and is a crucial component of navigating the initial impact of an emergency. Further, by prioritizing compassion in times of distress, you are better equipped to accurately assess the needs of the most vulnerable to mitigate damage and take proactive steps to speed up recovery.

In medicine, compassion plays a fundamental role in providing care. However, equally as important as treating physical ailments is ensuring that the resulting psychological toll is accounted for and addressed. It is in this space that healthcare professionals must recognize the value of compassion to reduce the likelihood of patients experiencing psychological trauma, including PTSD, after physically healing.

Compassionate healthcare to avoid PTSD

Aside from immediate health risks, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing tremendous social and financial hardships worldwide. As a result, anxiety is already at an all-time high, potentially placing patients at greater risk for experiencing PTSD after recovery. However, data supports that caregiver compassion can help.

2019 study found that although “PTSD symptoms are common among ED patients with life-threatening medical emergencies[,] … compassion during the emergency is independently associated with [a] lower risk of developing PTSD symptoms.” This finding sends an uplifting message that healthcare workers can, in fact, improve the overall quality of life for patients by honing their craft of compassion.  

Susan M. Pollak, MTS, Ed.D., further explores the significance of compassion, stating that “[i]n all pandemics, doctors, nurses, and health care workers respond with remarkable dedication, heroism, and compassion … It is an antidote to despair.” 

As we continue to learn more about this pandemic, new treatments emerge and practices evolve, but it is crystal clear that compassion and relationship-centred care will remain as a core feature of every health regimen.