by Cindy Collins, PhD, RD
There are many changes anticipated with the Affordable Care Act. According to Dr. Diane E. Meier some unnecessary procedures will no longer by ordered by physicians. Doctors will opt for what is best for patients over the long run rather that administering tests and treatments so readily.
Dr. Meier is an expert in the field of palliative medicine and practices at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. She was a keynote speaker at the Buddhist Contemplative Care Symposium, organized by the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care and the Garrison Institute.
Although it may often go unnoticed, when a patient has an incurable illness and is terminal the physician often suffers along with the patient and family. Their reaction may be cloaked in anger, abruptness or avoidance. Theoretically, if a patient feels abandoned, they may experience depression which can hasten further suffering and death.
Dr. Michael Kearney warned against two typical reactions these physicians may have. One is burnout which can lead to emotional and physical exhaustion, detachment and a sense of failure. The other is compassion fatigue which is characterized by avoidance of thinking about the patient, sometimes demonstrated with irritability and anger.
A study published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine (2008) included 18 oncologists. If they felt their role was one of both biomedical and psychosocial functions they reported finding end-of-life care as very satisfying. However, those who saw their role as primarily biomedical felt distant from their patients and as If they failed when the patient was not healed.
Dr. Kearney’s solution to help doctors affected by the stress of dealing with terminal patients is Mindfulness Meditation. In addition to enhanced self-awareness this may render the physician a better listener and also enable them to give second thought to reaction-based decisions for additional treatment.
For further reading by Michael Kearney, see Mortally Wounded – Stories of Soul Pain, Death and Healing