Stressing the human touch in health care


When Anna Quindlen told a friend with AIDS she was giving a talk at the Yale School of Nursing, the friend said, “Tell them to treat the patient, not the file.”

Quindlen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author, did just that when she delivered the 38th annual Sybil Palmer Bellos lecture recently. She stressed the need for doctors to apply a “human touch” and credited women with pushing the health care pendulum in that direction. “We have the most astonishingly competent health care system in the world,” she said. “Now we want it to be as empathetic as it is competent.”

Quindlen spoke from experience. During her mother’s losing battle with ovarian cancer, she said, “there was no attempt on the part of her doctors to engage with her or us as people.” But times have changed as more women have entered the profession, and women, the chief health care consumers, have demanded personalized attention.

She sees parallels between journalism and health care. Newspapers diversified their content because consumers demanded it. Quindlen says her New York Times column focused on the “human experience” because that’s what she and readers found most satisfying. She’s optimistic that health care providers are finally realizing that’s what patients want, too.