National Love Your Patients Day, Feb. 7, Reminds Health Care Professionals to Show Humanity, Humility With Patients

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Doctors, nurses, paramedics and all other health care professionals will be giving a prescription to themselves on Feb. 7 -- a prescription for compassion, respect and humility as part of the first annual National Love Your Patients Day.

Doctors, nurses, paramedics and all other health care professionals will be giving a prescription ... to themselves on Feb. 7 -- a prescription for compassion, respect and humility as part of the first annual National Love Your Patients Day.

National Love Your Patients Day -- conceived by Dr. Scott Diering, an emergency room physician at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown, Md., and an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland -- is dedicated to improving health care in the United States by increasing awareness about the benefits, to patients and professionals alike, of providing health care that is compassionate and humanistic -- not just clinically excellent.

"This day was born out of the need for a more compassionate system of health care in this country. We need to restore the heart and humanity of medicine," Diering says. "We're reminding doctors and other health professionals, whose jobs are increasingly influenced by technology and insurance companies, about what is most important in health care: patients, and their values and dignity."

Diering adds that doctors and other health care providers "all too often treat diseases rather than care for patients."

"We lose sight of the human condition," he says. "We forget our patients' suffering, their personhood. We have responsibilities to each other, and these include offering a compassionate, respectful presence."

A large body of published medical research points to the conclusion that showing humanistic love -- sometimes known as "agape," from the Greek word for selfless love -- in health care significantly improves patient health -- and enhances healing in many cases. Patients also say they're happier with the care they receive and more satisfied with their practitioners, according to the research.

Doctors and other providers practicing humanistic medicine find that they typically deliver higher-quality health care with ease and enjoyment than when they remain emotionally aloof. This reduces burnout, the published studies show.

Acting with selfless love is great for professionals' practices too, the research suggests. Doctors and other providers who practice with agape dramatically reduce their risk and incidence of malpractice lawsuits because satisfied patients are less likely to litigate.

The American Medical Association says nearly 20 states are facing malpractice crises, with premiums having risen by 50 percent or more in the past two years -- by more than 70 percent in the past two years in Maryland. The group cites skyrocketing litigation costs.

The American Insurance Association, a trade group, says malpractice litigation is costly not only because judgments can be very large, but also because many doctors practice "defensive medicine" involving unnecessary but costly procedures to avoid lawsuits.

"Practicing with agape is not psychobabble," says Diering, who is also the author of "Love Your Patients! Improving Patient Satisfaction with Essential Behaviors That Enrich the Lives of Patients and Professionals" (Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2004) and founder of a health care institute of the same name (http://www.loveyourpatients.org). "Published medical research shows that acting with agape love toward one's patients -- that is, showing empathy and understanding, openness and interest, forgiveness and compassion -- leads to many benefits for both the patient and health care provider."

Diering's critically acclaimed "Love Your Patients!" book is an easy-to-read guide -- conversationally written to appeal to patients and health care professionals alike -- that shows why acting with compassion, respect and humility is easy, and improves health care. In simple, straightforward language, the book shows how caregivers can readily develop skills of compassion, respect and humility -- skills that the medical literature says are essential for humane medical care.

The book also critiques how clinically excellent doctors, nurses and other caregivers are only doing half their job when they fail to act with humanistic love. And the book reviews published papers and studies that scientifically demonstrate how and why behaving with humanistic love makes good clinical sense.

The Love Your Patients! institute is dedicated to sharing the simple yet powerful ways of helping doctors and all health professionals act with love.

For more information about National Love Your Patients Day or any aspect of improving health care, contact the Love Your Patients! institute at (301) 620-1588 or diering@loveyourpatients.org, or log on to the institute's Web site at http://www.loveyourpatients.org.

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Gerry Harrington
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