Restoring the lost art of healing

February 26th, 2018

Being aware of the systemic problems in health care does not make one immune to them. That’s what Dr. Rich Joseph, resident at Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston, learned when he met a frustrated patient who turned out to be pioneering cardiologist and activist Dr. Bernard Lown. In The New York Times, Joseph recounts how taking care of Dr. Lown not only showed him how much we have left to fix in health care, but inspired the young doctor to be part of the change to fix it. 

“Doctors of conscience have to resist the industrialization of their profession” – Dr. Bernard Lown

Lown had spent his whole career fighting against the industrialization of medicine, calling for a restoration of healing into health care. And yet, in the hospital, “Dr. Lown was treated like just another widget on the hospital’s conveyor belt,” writes Joseph. Lown’s care team made decisions without his input and seemed to care more about checking off meaningless treatment boxes than about addressing his anxieties. There were too many things being done to treat him, and not enough done to heal him.

Just as he wrote in his 1996 book, The Lost Art of Healing, Lown stressed to Joseph the importance of listening to the patient, providing caring words, and making the patient a major partner in care decisions. But as Joseph began spending more time with Lown, he learned that doing the best thing for patients goes beyond just their treatment in the hospital — it means challenging the medical system that reduces patients to their conditions.

“Doctors of conscience have to resist the industrialization of their profession,” said Lown. Lown and Joseph call for a movement to restore healing to health care, by changing medical training to emphasize relationship-building and communication skills, and by investing more health care resources in our communities and less in hospitals.