Telehealth visits more than doubled in March 2020, and this was a welcomed change as doctors rated is the most promising technology during COVID-19. However, this also presented clinicians with the biggest test of translating compassionate care into practice in order to ensure patients are given appropriate care even in the most complex cases. Experts discussed how clinicians can continue to deliver quality care, despite the challenges of disruptive pathways, with the required level of compassion during the ‘Combining Digital with Compassionate Care’ session at the HIMSS21 European Health Conference on 9 June.
The speakers were: Dr Alec Price-Forbes, consultant rheumatologist and lead for EPR (UHCW and CCIO for Coventry and Warwickshire’s Health and Care Partnership (STP); Dr Christie Watson, professor of Medical and Health Humanities, University of East Anglia, UK; Dr Allan Wardhaugh, clinical lead, national clinical framework, office of chief medical officer, Welsh Government, UK; Dr Franka Cadée, president, International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) Netherlands; and Ms Kathy-Anne Sienko, executive director for Nursing Affairs, King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre, Saudi Arabia.
COVID-19 accelerates compassionate care
“I think my learning has been twofold. So firstly, this is all about humanity. It’s all about people and relationships,” said Dr Price-Forbes.
“From March to June, I think people suddenly realised and appreciated their own mortality. There was an outpouring, I think, of recognition of that, which expressed itself with compassion, acts of kindness that were both visible and not visible.”
However, Dr Price-Forbes stressed: “My concern is that we need to learn from that and move forward. Because […] the inequalities have been large. It’s about that 80/20 rule, we need to be enabling the 80% to move on and equip them if you will, with digital literacy and skills and information, particularly from a health and care perspective, to enable us to start really supporting and dealing with the challenge to society for that 20%, who have really suffered as a consequence of the pandemic.”
Leadership’s role in modelling compassionate care
Discussing the invaluable role of leadership in encouraging compassionate care, Dr Watson said: “I think that compassionate leadership has become more important than ever. Regardless of whatever is going on structurally, organisationally and politically, I think that role modelling is really, really important.
“People do look up to leaders as to how to behave, what care they need to have for their colleagues, but also things like self-care and wellness, which I think in the UK, particularly we’re a bit suspicious of.
“We are about to see, and already seeing a tsunami of mental health problems within our industry, within medical professionals, both nurses and doctors and allied health professionals. People have seen things and smelled things and touch things and been in situations in the last year that they’ve never ever had to face and no person should ever have to face.”
Humanising birth practices
Dr Cadée highlighted the ways technology has helped midwives to get through the pandemic, and how it enabled them to humanise the practice: “Our midwives work very close in the community, we have a very special philosophy of care we work with our hands and our heart.
“Maternity care humanised in a significant way from the beginning of the pandemic, to now you can really see big changes.
During the pandemic, many women were encouraged not to breastfeed their babies if they had contracted COVID-19 themselves. Later on, research showed that if the woman had the virus, she was able to feed her baby because it gave the baby antibodies.
“So there were many common misconceptions and by us communicating with each other through all kinds of digital means, we were able to spread the word. We also found that midwives felt much more supported, community-based services were more recognised, we were provided PPE and midwives were included more in policy dialogue, because it was seen and we knew that it worked better.
“By being able to really get out there, through social media and through digital means we were able to gather this information and create a movement, we still have quite a way to go. But it really has changed things dramatically for us.”
Technology and healthcare as bedfellows
Sienko said: “There is a tendency in healthcare to treat technology as if it has no place or if it’s some kind of intruder in the work that we do on a person to person basis with our patients. I would like to think that actually, they’re not strange bedfellows at all, they’re actually very close partners in how we deliver excellent healthcare.”
Sienko also explained that in countries like Saudi Arabia, demonstrating compassion can be nuanced and complex, because some of the behaviours might not be deemed culturally acceptable.
“You will see that compassion has many meanings. It is empathy. It’s described as support, it’s described as being person-centered, it’s described in terms of communication and understanding. However, if you look at the literature, what it tells you is that compassion is quite difficult to describe and to translate. And certainly, in cultures like mine, it is often quite a nuanced construct.”
“People spend a lot of their time, more of their time online than they do offline. So healthcare is increasingly mobile, and it’s increasingly needing to be connected. It needs to be responsive and personal, and interactive,” added Sienko.
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