Campus News

October 26, 2010

Report From: Health Sciences

Patient-centered care more than just a catchphrase

S. Wright Caughman is interim executive vice president for health affairs for Emory University, CEO of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center, and chairman of Emory Healthcare.

To trace the evolution of health care over the past few decades, you only need to turn on your television. In the late 1960s and 1970s, TV gave us “Marcus Welby, MD,” a kindly family practitioner with a gentle bedside manner and an interest in the total wellbeing of his patients.  

Fast forward to today, where TV gives us Dr. Gregory House, a brilliant diagnostician who treats extraordinarily complex cases using cutting-edge technology, but who has more interest in solving the puzzle than in supporting the patient. Although the show is fictional, the premise is real: It’s all too easy in today’s increasingly complicated and technologically advanced health care environment to lose focus on the patient.  

At Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center, we believe in offering the people who turn to us for help the best of both worlds. Of course, a health system like ours, which has such strong research and education components, offers the most innovative specialized care available in the state. But we also offer care that is centered on patients and their families.  

Our goal is to take advantage of the best technology science has to offer, but always with the understanding that our patients and their loved ones need our empathy, attention and care just as much as they need our expertise.  

Any period of injury or illness is an anxious time for patients and the people who love them. Evidence has shown time and again that the power of recovery is improved by a positive mental and emotional attitude and the knowledge that people care.  

That’s why we take extra effort to involve patients and their families in decisions that affect them, making them members of the care team and reassuring them that they matter not just as cases, but as people we are doing our best to help.  

Placing the patient at the center can and does tangibly affect outcomes. Take a recent patient who had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. Her family was understandably distraught, but when those of us on her care team involved them in the decision-making process and kept them continually informed about what was going on, they became calmer and more confident, which enabled them to provide the patient a stronger support base, which in turn helped in her recovery, and theirs.  

If you ask any of our front-line medical personnel, they’ll tell you that examples like this one are plentiful. Our best technology is critically important to the health and well-being of our patients, but the compassion component can’t be underestimated. And at Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center, it never is.

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