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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 presented clinicians with the largest 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, regardless of the challenges of disruptive pathways, with the necessary level of empathy throughout 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 direct for EPR (UHCW and CCIO for Coventry and Warwickshire’s Health and Care Partnership (STP); Dr Christie Watson, professor of Health and Health Humanities, University of East Anglia, UK; Dr Allan Wardhaugh, clinical lead, national clinical framework, the office of chief medical officer, Welsh Government, UK; Dr Franka Cade, 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 was twofold. So firstly, this is all about humankind. 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 believe, of recognition of that, which expressed itself with compassion, acts of kindness which were both visible and not visible. “

However, Dr Price-Forbes worried : “My concern is that we will need to learn from that and move forward. Because […] the inequalities are large. It’s about that 80/20 rule, we will need to be enabling the 80% to proceed and equip them if you will, with electronic literacy and skills and information, especially from a health and care standpoint, to enable us to start really supporting and dealing with the challenge to society to get that 20%, who have really suffered as a result of the pandemic. “

Direction ‘s role in modelling compassionate care

Discussing the invaluable role of leadership in encouraging compassionate care, Dr Watson said: “I believe that compassionate leadership has become more significant than ever. No matter whatever is happening structurally, organisationally and politically, I believe that role modelling is really, really important.

“People do look up to leaders as to how to behave, what maintenance they need to have for their coworkers, but also things like self-care and wellness, which I think in the united kingdom, particularly we’re a bit suspicious of.

“We are going to see and seeing a tsunami of mental health issues within our industry, within medical professionals, both nurses and physicians and allied health professionals. People have seen things and smelled things and touch things and been in situations in the previous year that they’ve never ever had to face and no individual should ever have to face. “

Humanising birth clinics

Dr Cadée highlighted the ways technology has helped midwives to make it through the pandemic, and how it enabled them to humanise the practice : “Our midwives work really close in the area, we’ve got 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, so now you really can see enormous changes.

During the pandemic, many women were encouraged to not breastfeed their babies if they had contracted COVID-19 themselves. Later on, study showed that when the woman had the virus, she was able to feed her infant because it gave the baby antibodies.

“So there were many common misconceptions and from us communicating with one another through all kinds of digital means, we could spread the word. We also discovered that midwives felt much more supported, community-based services were recognised, we were supplied PPE and midwives were contained more in policy dialogue, since it was seen and we understood that it worked better.

“By being able to really get out there, through social networking and through electronic means we were able to gather this information and make a movement, we still have a significant way to go. But it really has changed things dramatically for us. “

Technology and health care as bedfellows

Sienko said: ” There’s a tendency in health care to treat technology like it has no location or if it’s some sort of intruder in the work we do on a person to person basis with our patients. I would like to think that really, they’re not strange bedfellows in any respect, they’re actually quite close partners in how we deliver excellent healthcare. “

Sienko also clarified that in countries like Saudi Arabia, demonstrating compassion can be nuanced and complicated, because some of the behaviours may not be deemed culturally acceptable.

“You will see that empathy has many meanings. It’s empathy. It’s described as service, it’s described as being person-centered, it’s described concerning communication and understanding. However, if you examine the literature, what it tells you is that empathy is quite tough to describe and to interpret. And certainly, in civilizations like mine, it is often quite a nuanced construct. “

“People spend a whole lot of their time, more of their time online than they do offline. So healthcare is increasingly portable and it’s increasingly needing to be connected. It has to be responsive and personal, and interactive, ” additional Sienko.

View the ‘Combining Digital with Compassionate Care’ session ‘On Demand’ here.  

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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