Physicians are trained to establish bedside manner, to be respectful and deliver diagnoses in a non-threatening way. But for some doctors, there are more personal ways to connect with patients.
“It’s usually a hand on their shoulder and listening — a very light touch, but there’s that connection that goes beyond words if it’s done in the appropriate manner,” said Marcia Miller, M.D., an assistant professor in the College of Medicine’s department of community health and family medicine.
Miller was the recipient of this year’s Planetree Spirit of Caring Award in recognition of her commitment to patients and her personal approach to medicine. In 1998, Shands AGH became the first hospital in Florida to affiliate with Planetree, a nonprofit organization committed to the development of patient-focused health care.
Miller said humanistic medicine means looking at everything that contributes to a person’s well-being, including their life stressors, family and spiritual needs in addition to their physical ailments.
“It’s about encompassing the whole person, not just their disease and their diseased state,” she said. “You can’t take care of a patient with that narrow focus.”
The Planetree philosophy focuses on human needs and taking a more holistic approach to medicine. Patients are given choices and are encouraged to be actively involved in their health care.
Department Chair R. Whit Curry Jr., M.D., said the Planetree model is incorporated into all aspects of a hospital from the staff’s attitude toward patients to the way the rooms are designed. Some of these touches can include the use of wood floors and warm colors over sterile white hospital tile and rehabilitating patients with art and music.
“It’s an attempt to make a hospital, a rather frightening environment, a more user-friendly place for patients, by making patients feel more at home and by encouraging more family involvement,” he said.
While empathizing with a patient’s condition and making them feel comfortable about treatment is important, Miller said that sometimes it’s “just the pleasantries” that make a difference, and it is equally important to laugh and connect with patients on a personal level.
“I saw a lady last night in the emergency room who I had taken care of three years ago. She walked in the door and said to me, ‘Hey girlfriend!’ It was just nice to elicit that response. She obviously remembered me, and it was a nice feeling,” she said.
Miller said community health and family medicine allows her to establish continuing interactions with patients who come back to her over the years. She said she likes when patients give her updates about their jobs and families and share parts of their lives with her.
“You have these ongoing relationships, which you don’t really think of when you’re just doing hospital medicine, and it’s a nice way to still be involved with the patient, with their life,” she said. “You kind of go in and out, but that’s OK too.”
Curry said Miller stands out because she is consistently recognized as a gifted healer and an inspiring role model by students, staff and patients.
“What can I say about a doctor that sits on the bed next to you, holds your hand, shares M&M’s and lets you cry and calms your fears? Awesome!” a patient’s daughter said in a past evaluation. “I watched her soothe out all the wrinkles of worry in my mom’s face and leave her with smile lines.”