This is a guest post by Craig Blinderman, MD, MA
Research shows that palliative care can improve outcomes—quality of life, depression, anxiety, even survival--for patients with a serious or life threatening illness, like cancer. Palliative care also attends to the suffering of families, and has been shown to improve their outcomes--both during the experience of illness and throughout the time of bereavement. Those of us working in hospice and palliative care have learned that communicating fully about what matters most to patients can improve their sense of dignity, meaning and purpose, ameliorate suffering, and enhance their quality of life.
However, palliative care and hospice practitioners face tremendous challenges in providing services to the sick, injured and disabled. The modern US health care system with all its inequities and fragmented delivery of services is, generally speaking, not a supportive environment for patients and caregivers alike. Moreover, there is a relative shortage of well-trained palliative care providers to meet the needs of patients with a serious or life threatening illness. Lastly, caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue are common among those who treat seriously ill patients, especially those in the critical care settings. Attrition rates for palliative care clinicians – both nurses and physicians -- are surprisingly high: 30 – 50% overall for nurses and physicians (including 50% for oncologists).
So we must ask ourselves: how can we provide high quality, compassionate care in an environment where such care is desperately needed without becoming fatigued and burned out in the process?
"Contemplative care" is an emerging field, but there is a growing body of evidence pointing to its importance and efficacy. Contemplative-based interventions for caregivers have been shown to ameliorate their sense of emotional exhaustion and increase their mindfulness, empathy, conscientiousness and emotional stability. For the health care provider, incorporating contemplative practices can translate into more authentic presence and better communication between care provider and patient. Mindfulness and contemplative practices can support caregivers to provide high-quality care, enhance resiliency, and prevent clinical burnout and compassion fatigue.
The 2014 Buddhist Contemplative Care Symposium: Communication and the Interpersonal Relationship within Palliative and End of Life Care will offer teachings and interactive workshops for palliative care and hospice providers and other caregivers interested in incorporating contemplative practices to enhance their practice and well-being. Details are at http://zencare.org/2014-
symposium. CME and CEU credits are available. For registration options and sign-up, go to this page.