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What is the Fine Art of Healthcare?

picture of me in FAOH wkshpI have developed an innovative and interdisciplinary program at the University of Miami that uses art to hone observation and communication skills in the service of clinical diagnosis. Working in partnership the Lowe Art Museum, Miller School of Medicine, School of Nursing and Department of Psychology have filled a gap in medical education to strengthen healthcare.

Over the last five years I have read over 100s of publications, watched a number of videos, and listened to webinars that explore ideas, challenges and solutions for healthcare in the 21st century. Through weekly blog posts I look forward to dialogue on these issues.


Doctors Enlist Paintings to Hone Skills

Most of us who do any investigation into medicine now realize that medicine is not a science; there are too many unknowns, too many questions, too many rare diseases, that haven’t been researched and written about.  So why not use all the tools available to become more adept at finding the answers to medical mysteries? And maybe using art to hone diagnostic skills is not a bad idea.  According to an article in the Wall Street Journal called, Doctors Enlist Paintings to Hone Skills, “More physicians are offering a different perspective on paintings by ‘diagnosing pieces of art.” (see article here)Raphael The School of Athens

Doctor, Shut Up and Listen

Mouth ShutFunny title but not so funny if you are sitting in your doctor’s office and he/she isn’t listening to you!  Apparently this happens more often than not; doctors interrupt patients every “18 seconds”, often they don’t let their patients know what their final diagnosis is before they leave the hospital, and often they are rude, when they are in a hurry.  We all know that there are huge restrictions on doctors these days: insurance companies, CEOs, etc.. but that doesn’t preclude being compassionate and opening one’s eyes and ears when sitting in front of a patient.  (see article here)

Clearing the Lens, by Mallory Raymond

Mallory Raymond, a fourth year medical student, at the University of Miami, has been an active participant in our Fine Art of Healthcare workshops.  She wrote a great piece in the most current issue of Academic Medicine, “Part of what went wrong was a system’s failure—a long wait, an exhausted resident—but part lies deeper, resting on the roles of health care providers as humans, communicators, relators, and reflectors. Although we may notalways pay attention to the subtleties of language and emotion, the gravity of what medicine stands for should hold us to higher standards, for the sake ofour patient’s safety, comfort, and health.
Medicine demands that we not only understand and apply science to our treatments but also teach and care for our patients, through a deeper understanding of their socioeconomic status, culture, and capabilities. Medicine demands that we pay attention, analyze, and observe.”

see article here

With Electronic Medical Records Doctors Read, When they Should Talk, by Abigail Zuger, M.D.

Technology can be a very very useful tool but it can also be a distraction, especially in the world of medicine.  Electronic Medical Records (EMR) are the way of the future. But can EMRs replace the old-fashioned taking of a patient’s history?  I think not!  The NYT’s had a article in the Health section called, With Electronic Medical Records Doctors Read, When they Should Talk. (read article here)

There is something to be said for a doctor sitting down with a patient and asking and re-asking, if necessary, about the patient’s history.  In my opinion there is no replacing that direct contact and communication with the patient.  EMR’s can only do so much but they cannot replace the relationship that needs cultivation between doctors/nurses and their patients. Man wearing mask

Communication is key!



jordi on motorcycleSo my husband went into the hospital on September 26 for a blocked colon; painful, but not serious, and he was released on Tuesday, October 1st.  He told the docs that he was “good”.  But the next night we were back in the ER because he was vomiting and miserable.  So they gave him some painkillers, did an x-ray, and he was feeling no pain.  So they let him go.  We were back 24 hours later; again with vomiting, nausea, and this time they did a CT scan and “discovered” the block had grown.  On Friday, October 3 they did surgery to remove the blockage.  He felt better when they inserted the tube to remove a lot of bile that had collected.  And in spite of the surgery he was feeling a lot better.  On Tuesday, October 7th they did an x-ray and a ct scan and discovered he had pneumonia.  So now he has pain from the surgery and on top of it a hard time breathing.  On my way to the hospital the doctor calls and said, “there is a mass on his lung”.  I asked, “is it cancer?” Doctor: “we can’t rule that out”.  So here we are.  A pulmonologist was called in and he asked a lot of questions and listened to my husband’s lungs.  He concurred that there was fluid in his lungs.  However, he told us “no procedures until my husband is better”.  When I spoke to his infectious disease doctor, the next day, he said, “I don’t think it’s a tumor because it is large and it just appeared. But we can’t do anything until he’s better.”

So here we are in limbo-land, again, and we will wait, and hope that it isn’t a tumor and that it was a “mass” or “shadow” that was because of his pneumonia.  But the back and forth and not knowing is the most difficult part of it all!

Atul Gawande interview on The Daily Show

Atul GaBeing Mortalwande; author, doctor, Harvard Medical professor, has written another book, Being Mortal.  Although I have not read it to date I know the premise deals with the patient’s ability to have a conversation with their doctor about end-of-life decisions.  Nobody wants to die in a hospital or assisted living facility and the majority want to die at home, with dignity.

See interview here

The Best Possible Day, Atul Gawande

piano teacherIt’s almost unheard of: a doctor who pushes for less aggressive measures in order for the patient to die with dignity.  But that’s what Dr. Atul Gawande suggests in his New York Times Op-Ed piece, The Best Possible Day. 

He speaks from first-hand experience about his daughter’s piano teacher who is dying of a rare pelvic cancer.  And when asked what she wished for she said, and I’m paraphrasing here, to die at home, with dignity, and to be able to teach piano for as long as possible.

Physicians take note: this is really the wish of almost everyone!

Toward the clinical humanities: How literature and the arts can help shape humanism and professionalism in medical education Posted January 6th, 2014 in Humanities in Medicine, Professionalism Humanities, by Joanna Shapiro, PhD


Many articles, panels and presentations have focused on questions regarding the relationships (if any) among the humanities, humanism, and professionalism. These questions may never be definitively answered (nor, perhaps should they be). Nevertheless, below I share some of my own in-progress thoughts that I hope add light not heat to this ongoing debate.

Professionalism itself is a contentious subject, with many competing definitions. However, to be meaningful, professionalism must, as Robert Coles knew, engage the moral imagination (ref 1). To me, the most important meta-questions a future physician can engage with (preferably every day of her life) are fundamentally moral ones :

  • What kind of doctor do I want to be?
  • Who am I and who can I become within the practice of medicine?
  • How do dominant discourses in medicine and society influence me, my patients, and our community in negative or positive ways?
  • What is my commitment/responsibility/ to my patients and my community and how can I best serve them?

The questions above should be asked by anyone and everyone who enters the health care world.  As a matter of fact the questions can be used to guide all professions.

Read article:


Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician, by Sandeep Jauhar

doctoredIn ‘Doctored,’ Shortcomings of Health Care and Doctor
Sandeep Jauhar’s new memoir, “Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician,” tells the story of two midlife crises: the author’s own, and that of modern American medicine, now in about its fourth decade under managed care. Both prove to be frustratingly intransigent, with only small signs of hope.
Dr. Jauhar has traveled the paths of personal and professional angst before, in his 2007 medical memoir, “Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation,” which recounts his trying first year of residency at New York Hospital in Manhattan. In that book, he wrote: “For me, it was a disillusioning time; I spent much of it in a state of crisis and doubt.”
Life as a full-fledged physician doesn’t become much better, at least not for Dr. Jauhar, who takes his first job at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and becomes the director of its heart failure program. (He is also an occasional contributor to The New York Times.) Full of ideals about saving lives and providing compassionate, ethical care, he finds himself underpaid, overworked and pressured to cut corners in every direction.

In this, we gather, he is not alone. “Doctored” describes a profession that is like so many of its patients: full of malaise and desperation. Doctors are reported to commit suicide at a higher rate than other professionals, and Dr. Jauhar cites a 2008 survey in which only 6 percent of 12,000 physicians rated their morale as positive.
Then again, Dr. Jauhar is constitutionally dissatisfied. Just ask his father, who says of his wife, the author’s mother, “Like you, she is not a happy person.” (Some of the best scenes feature the father, who comes across as comically histrionic, neurotic and self-absorbed. “If you lose your job,” he tells his son, “we are finished. I will be the first to have a heart attack!” And then he tosses in: “And make some friends, Sandeep. You have no friends.”) Then Dr. Jauhar has his wife to contend with. Also a doctor, she keeps putting off her own job to stay home with their toddler, while telling her husband to bring home more money. “Money doesn’t buy happiness,” he counters. “Yes it does!” she replies.
The author is sometimes operatic in his complaints. Worried about his mounting pressures, he writes, “My obligations were like the concrete embankments along the expressway, preventing me from getting off.” He tries yoga, psychiatry, jogging in the rain. He describes his stomach troubles, his sleeplessness, his bad moods.
To relieve the money stress, he does something he dreaded and hoped to avoid: He moonlights on weekends and evenings for a private cardiology practice. It’s in these Faustian passages on the commerce of medicine that the memoir becomes an extraordinary, brave and even shocking document. Dr. Jauhar’s sharply observed anxieties make him a compelling writer and an astute critic of the wasteful, mercenary, cronyistic and often corrupt practice of medicine today.
He is brutally honest, not just about his own shortcomings, but about those of colleagues, bosses and institutions. There is the cardiologist who pressures him to perform expensive, unneeded diagnostic tests; the hospital, which wants him to see patients for ever-shorter sessions; the pharmaceutical company that pays him on the side to give “lectures” but will let him use only its slides and data.
Dr. Jauhar sees a 74-year-old patient who has been referred to the hospital for heart-valve surgery. He recommends against the operation because she is frail, her symptoms are managed by medicine, and the surgery is risky. But he is told to approve it anyway so he doesn’t insult the referring physician. “If you mess up relations with a referer,” his mentor says, “you can get fired.”
If things are broken in the world of managed care, there’s plenty of blame to go around. The insurance companies have taken away doctors’ autonomy. The fee-for-service model leads to overtesting, disorganization and redundancy. The fee incentives and a culture of liability lead to what Dr. Jauhar calls “wanton consultation.” As Alexander the Great once put it, “I am dying from the treatment of too many physicians.”
But it’s not just the system, Dr. Jauhar writes. Many of the doctors themselves are greedy, defensive and untrustworthy — including, at times, himself.
Of his collusion in ordering unnecessary nuclear stress tests, he writes: “Of course, good intentions didn’t exonerate me. Even beyond the wasted money, what about the false positives, the radiation exposure, the downstream invasive procedures?”
He added, “I used to despise the unethical behavior of doctors in private practice, but in reality, I was no better than they were.”
In trying to appease his wife, he ends up hating himself. Although it seems to take him a painfully long time, he finally figures out they can reduce household expenses by moving out of Manhattan. Focusing on just one job, he can strive to be the kind of doctor he hoped to be. And that means the kind of doctor who not just treats patients but cares for them.
Caring for people is why most doctors go into medicine in the first place. Dr. Jauhar’s greatest joy comes from these small day-to-day exchanges, even if his time with patients is short and increasingly circumscribed. Yet in the profession as a whole, the trust that patients place in their doctors has never been more at risk.
Perhaps the solution to both midlife crises is “doctors focusing on the their noble craft, their relationships with patients, the stuff over which we have some control.”
“Ultimately,” he concludes, “this may be the best hope for our professional salvation.”

Why Doctors Commit Suicide

18-Egon_Schiele_059There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that doctors are under an extreme amount of pressure but there is little that seems to be done about it.  In a NYT’s article entitled Why Doctors Commit Suicide (see here)  the article explains that as many as 400 doctors a year kill themselves.
We now know that doctors are not gods and need a way out; somehow someway to express their anger, fears and frustrations:  “We need to be able to voice these doubts and fears. We need to be able to talk about the sadness of that first death certificate we signed, the mortification at the first incorrect prescription we ordered, the embarrassment of not knowing an answer on rounds that a medical student knew. A medical culture that encourages us to share these vulnerabilities could help us realize that we are not alone and find comfort and increased connection with our peers. It could also make it easier for residents who are at risk to ask for help. And I believe it would make us all better doctors.”