One of the great legacies in recent medical history was provided by Kenneth Schwartz, a relatively young man who died of cancer, whose story of compassionate care noted, among other things:
I realize that in a high-volume setting, the high-pressure atmosphere tends to stifle a caregiver's inherent compassion and humanity. But the briefest pause in the frenetic pace can bring out the best in a caregiver and do much for a terrified patient. . . .
If I have learned anything, it is that we never know when, how, or whom a serious illness will strike. If and when it does, each one of us wants not simply the best possible care for our body but for our whole being.
This image was the impetus for the creation of a center to conduct programs to educate, train and support caregivers in the art of compassionate health care.
Started in 1997 at MGH, the Schwartz Center Rounds are now held in more than 186 sites across the United States. They are designed to enhance relationships and communication among members of multidisciplinary health care teams and to create supportive environments in which all can learn from each other.
So, how well does all this work? A recent article suggests it works very well. Beth Lown and Colleen Manning have published a study in Academic Medicine based on surveys of program participants in a number of institutions over the years. They found that the Rounds improved a sense of teamwork:
In particular, respondents had a heightened appreciation of the roles and contributions of colleagues from other disciplines and improved communication about both psychosocial issues and clinical issues.
The Rounds have also reduced caregivers' feeling of isolation in treating patients with complex and difficult conditions:
Rounds attendance improved their sense of support and decreased their stress and sense of isolation.
These findings are consistent with anecdotal reports I often receive from members of our staff. It is heartening that the good-willed people who work at the Schwartz Center have produced such lovely results for members of the health care professions and for the patient and families they serve. Lots of credit also goes to the members of the community who have supported them financially. Hint: Donate here.