Empathy Or Compassion?

Recently I had a wonderful conversation with a colleague on social media, Erin Gilmer (@GilmerHealthLaw).

Erin ( GilmerHealthLaw) pointed out to me the difference between the use of the word compassion versus empathy.

Erin noticed many times when she hears leaders and other executives inside of healthcare talk that they speak about empathy, but from her perspective, what she really thinks that they mean is compassion.

Erin specifically asked me what my thoughts and observations were on the use and difference between compassion and empathy?

I think it makes sense to take a step back and actually define what both of those words mean.

Compassion means sympathy or the concern for the suffering or misfortune of another person accompanied by a strong desire to want to alleviate that suffering.

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another individual’s experience and emotions.

Erin shared with me that she believes it’s difficult for most people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and understand their experience.

I think this is an amazing question!!

I think it depends on the situation.

I believe this because for me personally, I’ve always had one foot in and one foot out.

I’ve been caught in between two different worlds.

Why?

I’m a minority.

I’m biracial.

My mother is Caucasian. She grew up in Michigan.

My father is Hispanic and his first language was Spanish until he entered grade school.

My father’s mother and sister, my grandmother and aunt, were illiterate. They could not understand or speak English. They both also died of cancer.

My father lost his father, my grandfather, by the age of 10 and his mother by the age of 14.

He grew up in a single room home, built in the middle of a field with a dirt floor and a tin roof.

My mother on the other hand grew up in Michigan. She graduated high school, she attended a private nursing school, she graduated and was a staff nurse and then moved on to become an administrator. For the majority of my life all I can remember was my mother being an administrator or an executive director inside of hospitals and then nursing homes.

I have always been caught between two worlds.

I understand what it’s like to be a minority. I understand what it is like to be discriminated against in school, at work, in social circles because the shade of my skin, the spelling of my name, or how I pronounce words is different than those around me.

I understand issues to accessing health/care.

The cost barriers, the language barriers. I understand that some words don’t translate from medical terminology and jargon to everyday words, let alone from English to Spanish.

Shortly after graduating college I was charged in helping to navigate the waters of breast cancer care for my own aunt. To help translate the big scary terms of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, adjuvant therapy, HER2Nu, BRCA1 and BRCA2 and lumpectomy to a family that doesn’t trust the world of medicine, let alone know what all of these words mean to the life expectancy of their mother.

I was asked to translate her expectations for care and what the family would prefer her experience to be during her breast cancer journey.

In many instances, because I’ve been a patient or I’ve helped navigate the waters of being a patient, I’ve understood the barriers and challenges to accessing health/care.

At the same time I am also an insider.

I have formal training inside of health care. I have built cancer centers. I have built hospitals. I have ran, managed, directed and been responsible for cancer centers, service lines, growing the top line and balancing the bottom line. I have a clinical background in oncology. I have worked with payers and insurance companies to build new models of coverage, payment, reimbursement, and access.

I have built new models to expedite the time from thinking one has cancer to knowing your treatment options in 3 days or less.

I have worked as a researcher. I have worked for the large medical technology companies to develop and introduce the next generation of medical tools.

Again, I have one foot in and one foot out.

Two feet. Each standing in different worlds.

My experience has led me to have a deeper and more intimate understanding of people. Of all of those people seated, and unseated, around the table we call health/care.

Maybe this has allowed me to have greater empathy for many of the stakeholder that are inside and outside of health/care?

Yet the reality is that I can’t have empathy for everyone.

And in those scenarios I have to resolve in having compassion.

This was a beautiful observation that began with Erin.

It led to a wonderful conversation of between the two of us.

It ultimately led me to want to highlight and share that there is a difference between leading with compassion and leading with empathy.

I believe that as much as any of us are able to, that we always want to be empathetic.

We always need to try and put ourselves in the shoes and in to the experience of others.

But for those instances and situations in which we can’t, we need to lead with compassion.

At the end of the day, what we need to understand, what is the most important thing inside of health/care is that we want to be seen as individuals.

We want care to be delivered based on our expectations. We want to trust those that care for us, and we want them to trust our voice.

The ideal way to build trust is the same way the best medicine is delivered, one on one.

At the N of 1.

As always feel free to email me at cancergeek@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter and Instagram as CancerGeek

~Cancergeek

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What Happens When A Pharmageek And A Cancergeek Meet In Spain?

Last week I had the fortune of attending the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO) in Barcelona, Spain. It was a wonderful meeting.

I was able to meet some of my new colleagues from Europe.

I was introduced and met a few customers that are doing incredible work in South America, Spain, the Netherlands, and in the U.K.

I read a majority of the scientific posters and was happy to see synergies carrying over from the imaging world into the field of radiation oncology.

There were a few big topics such as the use of novel tracers to identify cancer and then use for target delineation. Iterative reconstruction was a big buzz around the showroom floor as it applies daily imaging. MR and even spectral imaging were all being highlighted in how they can help in defining cancer as well as targeting it with radiation oncology.

My biggest excitement was when I discovered that one of the guests during ESTRO was going to be Lionel Reichardt, aka Pharmageek.

I have been following Lionel for multiple years. I have exchanged emails, Tweets, have read several of his articles and watched multiple videos of Lionel. (more articles)

The question most people have is,

“What happens when a pharmageek and a cancergeek are in the same room?”

Magic, of course. 

I was fortunate enough to have dinner with Lionel.

First and foremost, as with many IRL (in real life) meetings, it was as if we had just seen each other and were catching up with an old friend. Lionel is very observant, does his due diligence, and has an amazing perspective on technology, health, care, and the patient perspective.

I was energized to learn of an initiative that Lionel has been doing for a while now called, “As A Patient I Demand….” This initiative was taken from the candidacy of Francois Hollande and applied to getting the patients perspective in healthcare. Specifically, Lionel’s initiative translates to the following:

“The health seems forgotten by the speeches of the potential presidential candidates of 2017…with #MoiPatient (taking up Francois Hollande’s anaphor in 2012 “Moi President”), we give the floor to the patient that we are all at a certain moment in our lives.” (videos here)

What I enjoyed the most about my conversation with Lionel is that he cuts through the bullshit (as most of my French friends do). We took a walk around the showroom floor at ESTRO and we discussed some of the same “buzzwords” we also witnessed during RSNA 2017 (and several other medical conferences).

Words such as artificial intelligence, deep learning, machine learning, clinical decision support, big data, analytics, and insights.

Companies from pharma, radiology, oncology, and other sectors of healthcare like to use these top of mind buzzwords, but we both agreed, that the majority of the technology and its applicability is still vapor, unfulfilled promises, and a prophecy of what is yet to come.

The reality is that health/care has undergone similar technological transformations multiple times, and unlike the rest of the world outside of healthcare, technology has only created a larger divide inside of medicine.

Lionel also pushed me on my own hypothesis, that health and care will be delivered at the N of 1.

He asked me how long I think it will take to reach this promised land?

I shared with Lionel that I believe we can reach that destination by 2025.

The hurdle is not the technology, it is people.

It is a fundamental culture shift.

While the insurance groups in the U.S. want population health, the hospitals want to develop pathways (rules) for patient management, and Governments want to provide access to quality care, it will ultimately be the patient who gets to determine what will work for them as individuals.

If we take a look and realize that there are no longer gatekeepers to medical knowledge, that brand hospital means less to a patient than the brand of a physician and when patients seek care, they want to trust the person.

Technology can enable, but trust is earned one patient and one physician at a time.

At the end of the weekend, we both agreed: patients want #GFHC and they want it delivered at the N of 1. (click the link and take the pledge if you agree)

As always feel free to email me at cancergeek@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter and Instagram as CancerGeek

~Cancergeek