Doctor's near-death experience inspires campaign to improve doctors' patient communication skills

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A doctor's personal near-death experience has sparked a new campaign to improve patient communication skills and encourage greater empathy among healthcare professionals. 

In 2008, Dr. Rana Awdish nearly died after an occult adenoma in her liver ruptured, leading to multisystem organ failure and the death of the infant she was carrying. Her recovery included five major surgeries and multiple hospitalisations.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Awdish says she experienced a casual indifference among healthcare staff while hospitalised. “I was privy to failures that I’d been blind to as a clinician,” she says. “There were disturbing deficits in communication, dis-coordinated care, occasionally an apparently complete absence of empathy. I recognised myself in many of those failures.”

Dr. Awdish’s experience inspired an organisational campaign at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan, where she is director of the hospital’s Pulmonary Hypertension Programme. The hospital network had introduced training to help health professionals to communicate more effectively and more compassionately with patients.

Dr. Awdish believes her experience is a teachable moment. “By focusing on our missteps, we can ensure that the path ahead is one of compassionate, coordinated care.”