Why kindness matters for elevating patient outcomes in rehabilitation practices

Perhaps an innate quality, or perhaps a learned quality (or both). Regardless, it can be a powerful enabler for your clinical outcomes. Kindness.

As clinicians, we appreciate the science behind what we do. Let’s address this straight away, before getting into the emotive component of kindness. The four neurotransmitters that really become activated by kindness are serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin. We are all familiar with the benefits behind the activation of these neurotransmitters through exercise, for example, but have you thought about how you can activate them in your patients during your clinical interaction?

The bond that you create when you first greet and talk to your patient can release the same neurotransmitters. Do not underestimate the power of a warm and genuine smile during your first interaction. During her recent Physiopedia Plus (Plus) webinar on return to exercise guidelines following a caesarean section, Women’s Health Physiotherapist Fiona Healy suggested that “kindness can compliment the natural power of healing”. She reminds us that injecting some humanity into your treatment approaches can be a strong motivator for your patients while actually increasing their adherence to your treatment and home care plans – kindness is central to healing.

With an increasingly unforgiving caseload for many, do we have time to be kind? Rather, the question needs to be, how can we make time to be kind?

“Actually, taking the time to be kind by engaging our patients more fully in their own care, can reduce our workload and increase our resilience” – Nigel Mathers, 2016

Demonstrating kindness towards patients in a clinic involves both verbal and non-verbal communication, as well as actions that reflect empathy and genuine care. Have a read through these ideas for clearly demonstrating kindness in a clinical setting, how many do you use in your clinicial practice?

  • Active listening: Pay close attention to what patients are saying to you. Read their body language, notice the tone of their voice. Give them ample time to express their concerns and validate their feelings. Actively listening shows that you care about their perspective and are committed to understanding their needs. Do not check the clock or your phone, or play with your pen. Give them your undivided attention.
  • Use empathetic communication: Choose words and phrases that convey empathy and understanding. It is perfectly fine to take a beat (pause) – let silence occur between questions and answers. Take the time to be thoughtful. Acknowledge the challenges and emotions patients may be experiencing, and express your commitment to supporting them through their healthcare journey.
  • Maintain a positive demeanour: Leave your own worries and problems at the clinic door. Be positive and be present. Approach patients with a warm and friendly attitude. Smile, make eye contact, and use a gentle tone of voice. A positive demeanour can help alleviate anxiety and create a more comfortable atmosphere for everyone.
  • Respect patient dignity and privacy: Allow kindness to grow in a respectful environment. Always respect the privacy and dignity of your patients. Ensure they feel comfortable and secure during examinations or discussions about sensitive topics. Book a private room, and ensure you are not interrupted during your time with them. Use appropriate draping, ask for permission before touching and maintain confidentiality.
  • Educate with compassion: We all know when someone is being sincere or not. When providing information about diagnoses, treatments, or procedures, communicate in a clear and understandable manner. Be patient, answer questions, and offer educational materials to empower patients to make informed decisions about their health.
  • Address concerns promptly: Do not let concerns or worries fester. Be proactive with your responses, even if they are uncomfortable. Respond promptly to patient concerns or questions. Whether addressing a specific symptom or clarifying their treatment plan, timely responses show that you prioritise their well-being.
  • Personalise care: Take the time to get to know the person before you. If you were the patient, how would you like to be treated? Treat each patient as an individual with unique needs. Personalising care involves considering their preferences, cultural background, and values. Take the time to ask for their feedback. This approach demonstrates respect for diversity and helps build a stronger patient-provider relationship.
  • Follow up with patients: After visits, procedures or treatments, follow up with patients to inquire about their well-being. It can be a simple email or phone call. This demonstrates ongoing care and concern beyond the immediate consultation or treatment.
  • Involve family and caregivers: Recognise the role of family and caregivers in a patient’s support system. Involve them in discussions when appropriate, and ensure they are informed about the patient’s care plan. Friends and families can be your greatest enablers and champions, helping patients stay motivated and focused on their recovery.
  • Create a comfortable environment: Pay attention to the physical environment of the clinic. What will the patients see, smell, feel, hear and experience? Ensure it is clean, organised, and welcoming. Comfortable surroundings contribute to a positive patient experience.
  • Offer small acts of kindness: Small gestures, such as offering a warm blanket, providing a cup of water, or helping with mobility, can go a long way in demonstrating kindness and creating a positive impression. Make each interaction with a person meaningful and helpful.

Kindness needs to be intentional. Demonstrating kindness is an ongoing process, and it involves consistently considering patients’ emotional and physical well-being. By incorporating these practices into your interactions, you can contribute to a more compassionate and patient-centred healthcare environment while supporting the healing process. 

“Kindness is what makes us human, builds resilience, and makes us better [clinicians] and better people” – Nigel Mathers 2016 

What has been your act of kindness today?

For some more ideas to inspire kindness in your clinical interactions, why not watch Fiona’s webinar and check out some Plus courses on the topic? We recommend The Person Behind the Patient and Empathy in Communication, the full Professional Communication Programme and Leadership – Emotional Intelligence as a great place to start – add them to your Plus To Do list to give your 2024 learning goals a kindness boost. And don’t forget to check out the rest of our 2024 webinar programme; dates are being added all the time for clinically relevant webinars throughout 2024.

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