The Healing Power of Kindness
Kindness is purposeful, voluntary action undertaken with sensitivity to the needs or desires of another person and actively directed toward fostering their well-being. Science shows that delivering health care with kindness leads to faster healing, reduced pain, increased immune function, lowered blood pressure, and decreased anxiety. Continue reading to learn more about how kindness affects patients.
Patients who feel supported feel less pain.
Studies dating back four decades 27 show that physicians who discuss procedures with patients and reassure them about normal pain after procedures help reduce the pain that is reported and the amount of pain medication requested. A recent study validates that when physicians listen and patients feel heard, patients experience relief from lower back pain and feel better about their care.7 In a randomized controlled trial of patients with irritable bowel syndrome, patients who were treated by practitioners who were warm, listened actively, and expressed compassion for their condition experienced less pain, less severe symptoms and greater health improvement than other patients in the study.28 Similar results of feeling heard and supported have been found to relieve pain for patients with headaches 17, 29 and a variety of other painful conditions, 12 leading to a general conclusion that better communication and listening have a positive influence on controlling pain.17
Human connection decreases blood pressure.
Compassionate care helps us feel seen and validated by another, and this human connection registers in our autonomic nervous system, lowering blood pressure and supporting us physiologically as well as psychologically.18, 19, 20 Human connection often generates positive emotion, which lowers blood pressure and calms cardiovascular reactivity.19 Research is showing new ways that our bodies and minds are connected, demonstrating that when a compassionate partner observes someone in distress, the compassionate partner's blood pressure rises as well,20, 21 and likewise calm reassurance or encouragement from a compassionate caregiver lowers blood pressure and calms us down. 22, 23 A warm touch from a loved or trusted partner increases hormones that respond to human connection and decreases blood pressure. 24, 25 The Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure concludes that trust for caregivers and empathy from caregivers are important aspects of treatment as well as providing motivation to continue on treatment plans over time.26
When doctors listen, patients heal faster.
Better communication between doctors and patients involves active listening and responding with empathy, which helps patients feel heard and valued, allows for better conversations about treatment options, and helps patients become more involved in decisions about their care. 7, 8, 9, 10 When doctors listen, especially with empathy for patients' feelings and needs, patients offer more information to help with better diagnosis and treatment that speeds healing. 11, 12 When patients experiencing irritable bowel syndrome were given a more supportive relationship with a doctor who listened, almost all of them experienced improvement in their symptoms, regardless of other conditions.13 Even trauma patients who feel heard by their surgeons during a hospital stay heal faster.14 When doctors listen, patients feel less stress, which leads to lower cortisol levels and faster healing of wounds.15, 16 Across a summary of 21 different studies, covering patients reporting a wide variety of symptoms, evidence shows that doctors who listen with empathy contribute to better physical and emotional health of their patients.17