Hospital patients can feel like a repair item on a conveyer belt.
The experience begins with the hospital admission process and continues with treatment and a constant stream of visitors, from physicians to nurses, to the hospital benefit staff, to cafeteria staff, to social workers, to chaplains and to hospital techs wheeling large machines in and out.
I remember one patient remarking after their stay: "Was I a human being, or simply a defective organism sent in for repair?"
I have spoken to patients who felt they received adequate care for their illnesses in the hospital.
Yet too many times, I listened to the frustrations at the often repeated perception that they were treated in a way that made them feel more like cogs in a wheel than human beings. Is it just part of the culture of institutional medical care? Is it that patients need to adjust their expectations about how should be treated? Do hospitals need to be vigilant with all members of their staffs -- from the physician to the janitors -- in training them to remember that the patient is a person first and foremost?
One of the greatest challenges for professionals and staff who interact directly with patients is to remember that they truly make a difference in the lives of a patient.
Being a patient is not fun. Some patients are simply not at their best emotionally and that can adversely affect their perception toward health care staff. At times this disconnect is unavoidable and unfortunately comes with the territory of working in a hospital. Patients and their families need to do their best to relate to staff with the same respect they expect from staff.
Healing as a sacred act is a principle which everyone on both sides of the equation need to remember. With the advent of so much technology in medical care, the patient's humanity can slip through the cracks. Health care professionals should be concerned and attentive to not only the physical health of the patient, but to what's going on inside the patient's heart and soul.
How can hospitals maintain a sense of dignity and respect for the idea of the patient as a person?
Theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, "The error in much of contemporary medicine is the tendency to depersonalize the patient, to treat the disease and ignore the person."
The patient is not a client or a customer. There must be an understanding at the outset of a patient experience there is an imbalance between the authority the staff possesses over the patient who is dealing with anxiety and helplessness. This is an area where ongoing training on how to engage a patient on a human level is absolutely critical.
Let's not forget that there is a spiritual dimension to treating the illness whether one is the patient, the family or the health care professional. Compassion -- and recognizing that the physical and spiritual go hand in hand in the process of treatment and recovery -- should be an idea that is part and parcel of caring for people in the hospital.
Today's health care professionals have great knowledge and expertise. The technology is awesome regarding how to treat patients. Yet, it is important that along with the medical treatment plans and the technological prowess that modern medicine provides today that professionals excel in the area of listening to and speaking with the patient.
Getting to know who the patient is on the outside restores for the patient his or her sense of humanity and can help them be more cooperative and willing to work with the staff. What most patients want is to know is that health care professionals not only treats them but cares about them, too.
I asked a physician with over forty years of experience what he thought the focus of hospital and medical care should be. He answered, "Care. Show the patient that the hospital is not a factory repair center for human parts. The hospital staffs must remember that what patients need most is not only the cure, but the care believing that they matter."
Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him at twitter.com/rabbibloom.