Reducing Suffering: A Beautiful Picture

Added on Mar 18, 2015

A lot of space on the Improving Health Care Blog over the past year has been dedicated to the concept of patient suffering. We have focused on the need to acknowledge suffering, understandit, measure it, and, most importantly, reduce it at every turn through the consistent and deliberate provision of compassionate, connected care.

Recently, a colleague passed along a letter she sent to her father’s physician. The sentiment she expressed (some of which is reprinted below, with her permission) illustrates with perfect clarity what the reduction of suffering looks like in practice—and it’s a beautiful picture.

Dr. Joseph:

On November 24, you performed a DaVinci Surgical Procedure on my father. I am writing to you personally, since I have been sharing one of your best practices with anyone who will listen!

As you are aware, my Dad had never had surgery in his life. He was also terrified because his cancer diagnosis was causing him anxiety and lots of sleepless nights. 

The night before his surgery, you called him at 9:30 in the evening—when my mother handed the phone over to my dad, she was concerned you were cancelling! Instead, you were able to calm his nerves and talk to him—telling him the benefits of a good night’s sleep and how much you were invested in a positive experience for him. As soon as he hung up the phone, he looked RELIEVED!  You had taken two minutes of your time to make sure his anxiety was lessened.  He slept well that night!

And the day he was discharged, you called him again. I was simply amazed. This best practice took 5 minutes of your time, but was a major contributor to my father’s speedy recovery.

I am convinced that his positive outcomes were a direct result of the time you took to make sure he felt connected to his care. I would love to see every doctor make some effort to consider this best practice, because it makes a difference, to the patient and his family.


To Dr. Jean Joseph of the University of Rochester Medical Center, and to all of the physicians who strive daily to deliver compassionate care that meets patients’ physical and emotional needs, thank you.