Editor’s Note: Matt Katz, M.D., is a member of the External Advisory Board for the Mayo Clinic center for Social Media.
Humanism in medicine has not flourished in the last century to keep up with scientific advances that leave us perplexed and sometimes wounded. By moving back toward the connectedness between health care providers and patients that existed before, we can close that schism for a more integrated approach to our health.
Connectedness means that we are all “in one piece” in mathematics. It’s a little fuzzier in real life, but when I shake hands with a patient, at a subatomic level parts move between us – literally sharing a little bit of ourselves. Figuratively, we are not separate, but connected by relationships with the potential for either healing or harm.
As I mentioned in my last post, with the tremendous successes of the scientific method we have forgotten the kind of connectedness we once knew before. Medicine 4.0 is tilted more heavily toward knowledge and expertise than caring. This philosophical approach tends to favor treatment over healing, dispassionate assessments to try to make medicine more scientific.
But at its core, medicine is a social science. We all suffer, and at different times we are either helping others suffering or seeking the relief of our own pain. Suffering is an integral part of life, and each of us can serve as healers. That relatedness makes it impossible to be truly objective. The humanistic aspects should be represented as an equally important part of the whole:
My ability to help patients make the right health choices hinges critically on communication and an ethical approach to care. I have learned a tremendous amount from both my patients and from my interactions in social media with others that care about healthcare. Connectedness has made me a better doctor by trying to be a decent human being first.
Integrity is another critical factor for Medicine 5.0 in my mind. Too often, the procedures to diagnosis and treat us can make us feel less than we are. This may be true literally (mastectomy or amputation) or a doctor or the healthcare system itself may make us feel that way. On a spiritual level, we can remain whole even in the face of illness and death. Some may not feel comfortable with this interpretation, but to many it is an essential part of life and death.
Integrity is also important because it embodies the importance of several other features relevant to how we interact in medicine: honesty, transparency of intent, and a willingness to change based upon what life throws at us. This applies both whether I’m the doctor or a patient, each role with different responsibilities. Combining integrity and connectedness back into healthcare can return much of what we’ve lost.
If we re-embrace the power of our interactions as a healer-wounded connected entity, I believe medicine will evolve into something better. Creating an ethos based upon autonomy, beneficence and justice is good, but I think adding connectedness and integrity will revitalize us and improve our health.