A fascinating article in the New York Times focuses on doctor “mindfulness” suggests how helpful it is to train professionals on how to clear their minds so that they can focus on the person and situation in front of them. Dr. Pauline Chen describes her mindset when a patient asks for a second opinion because of fear that the first doctor was not listening.
I had walked into the exam room to listen to this patient; but my mind was a few steps behind, as I struggled with thoughts about the colleague who’d just snapped at me over the phone because she was in no mood to get another new consult, my mounting piles of unfinished paperwork, and the young patient with widespread cancer whom I’d seen earlier in the day. Thoughts about my new patient jumbled in the mix, too, but they came into focus only after I had pushed away the fears that I might have neglected to order a key test on my last patient, that I’d forgotten to call another patient and that I was already running behind schedule.
She goes on to describe studies on the impact of training of mindfulness:
In one study, researchers first assessed the baseline mindfulness of 45 doctors, nurses and physician assistants by asking them to respond to statements like, “I tend to walk quickly to where I am going without paying attention to what I experience along the way,” “I find myself listening to someone with one ear, doing something else at the same time,” and “I forget a person’s name almost as soon as I’ve been told it for the first time.” Then the investigators recorded the clinicians’ interactions with more than 400 patients and interviewed the patients to gauge their level of satisfaction.
After analyzing the audio recordings and the patients’ responses, the researchers found that patients were more satisfied and more open with the more mindful clinicians. They also discovered that more mindful clinicians tended to be more upbeat during patient interactions, more focused on the conversation and more likely to make attempts to strengthen the relationship or ferret out details of the patient’s feelings.
The less mindful clinicians, on the other hand, more frequently missed opportunities to be empathic and, in the most extreme cases, failed to pay attention at all, responding, for example, to a patient’s description of waking up in the middle of the night crying in pain with a question about a flu shot.
Significantly, the most mindful doctors remained efficient. They accomplished just as much medically for their patients as their least mindful colleagues, despite all the extra conversation with patients about experiences and relationships.
We really need judges who know how to be mindful, and we need to figure out how to help them to learn such mindfulness. Here is a University of Wisconsin tool aimed at doctors.
It might be worth noting that for doctors the issue is paying attention to the patient. For the judge it is even more complex — it is about paying attention to two competing parties, and, indeed, in the case of a self-represented litigant case, making sure that the quieter party is fully heard — not necessarily an easy thing to do.