Dr. Pradeep Chopra often spends 2-3 hours with his patients at the Interventional Pain Management Center of Rhode Island. He sometimes makes house calls. He e-mails hospital CEOs on behalf of his patients and doles out hugs as often as prescriptions. Not surprisingly, Chopra, of Newton, is beloved by many of his patients who recommended him for the Compassionate Caregiver of the Year award, given out by The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare. He won the award and recently gave an address about compassionate care at the center’s annual
Q. How is the care you provide different from other doctors’?
A. It’s not like I pass out some snakeskin oil. I practice the same medicine that most people do. I think the difference is, I’m providing these patients with a sense of hope. [Telling them] you’re not alone. I’m not going to send you out with a piece of paper, I’m going to send you out with something more precious than that and that’s hope.
Q. Why does compassion matter in health care?
A. The beauty of providing compassionate care is that your outcomes are better.
Q. Why do we as patients seem to get compassionate care so rarely?
A. Our medical system is not set up for compassionate care. My son’s pediatrician, all he does is stare into the computer. They don’t look at you.
Q. Is it because doctors are too caught up in the idea of providing evidence-based care?
A. Evidence-based medicine is fine, it is good medicine, but it’s just science. It would apply well if you were a Toyota car. Human beings are different. You also have to believe your patients, you also have to not give up on them.
Q. So why aren’t doctors more compassionate?
A. We’re all compassionate human beings. In his own world [with his family, each doctor is] compassionate. Why isn’t he professionally compassionate? Is that because he doesn’t like his job, or he’s more worried about lawsuits, or he just thinks of it as a job and not as a calling? You don’t know.
Q. How do you manage to deliver care that others can’t, while living under the same constraints? What should others do?
A. One of the problems is that doctors are dictated by insurance companies as to how much time they can spend with a patient. Eighty percent of your patients are going to be straightforward cases. Twenty percent of your cases are going to be tough, complicated cases. Take it on as a challenge, spend that extra time with them, and do whatever needs to be done. Both insurance companies and doctors have to step up to the plate on this.
Q. It sounds like you work all the time.
A. I can’t go home thinking that if I’d stayed the extra hour I could have made a difference in somebody’s life.
‘Evidence-based medicine is fine, it is good medicine, but it’s just science. It would apply well if you were a Toyota car. Human beings are different.’
Q. And your wife?
A. She’s used to it.
Q. In your speech at the Schwartz dinner, you mentioned some topics that don’t usually come up in medical talks, including religion.
A. It’s like a no-no in the world of medicine. You only talk about spiritual care when we’re dying. Why can’t we do this now for people who are living? Our spiritual feelings are such a powerful motivator. Why can’t we use that? I’m not trying to convince someone that a powerful being exists, but it is a powerful belief, why not tap into that?
Q. You also talked about love.
A. No one talks about love in medicine. You live for love. You live for your parents’ love, your spouses’ love, your kids’ love. This is the only reason we’re alive. And we don’t talk about it when it comes to treating human beings. When it comes to treating a dog, you give him all the love in the world.
Q. You see love, hope, and religion as medicinal?
A. These are powerful “medicines” that we don’t use. Spiritual validity, love, providing hope. A smart physician can always say, I don’t know what you have, but I’m going to find out, or I know what you have but I don’t know how to help you but I’m going to try. Whether you come up with an answer or not, a patient leaves the office thinking “I have someone smart who is there to care for me.” That is what compassionate care is all about.This interview has been edited and condensed. Karen Weintraub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kweintraub.