We’ve all heard the term “Misery loves company.” It is typically used in a way that suggests that people who are unhappy like to be with other people that are unhappy or that people who are miserable wish others ill will. But what if “misery loves company” meant something else completely, and that understanding the phrase better could generate better patient outcomes in healthcare?
The answer to the “misery loves company” riddle, may have just been solved. Recent research has shown that a group of brain cells called “mirror neurons” may play a key role. They are activated when we experience emotions ourselves, but also when we watch others go through an emotional state. The vicarious experience actually makes the mirror neurons fire in our brains creating a similar emotional state in us. It is the physiological manifestation of empathy, and it also helps explain why film and plays may be so cathartic and riveting.
From a healthcare perspective, knowing this is a huge benefit, especially from a facility’s visitors policy perspective. Creating ways for patients to have positive interactions with their friends and loved ones can have a direct impact on their health, recovery, and ultimately their happiness.
“So during and after a visit from a loving and cheerful friend or relation, mirror neurons will stir similar positive feelings in the brain of the person in the hospital bed, lifting their spirits and making them feel better.”
In fact, Dr Matthew Ratcliffe of Durham University goes even further to assert that,
“By being with someone who has a smiling face — such as a hospital visitor — mirror neurons motivate a similar response in our own brain, leading us to make a similar gesture and even directing us towards a similar emotional reaction.”
So creating ways for patients to interact with family and friends and lowering the barriers to those interactions can have an impact on the patient’s happiness as well as how they perceive their medical condition. Given that a happy patient is a satisfied patient, and currently more and more healthcare payments are being tied to patient satisfaction and positive outcomes, it is to the healthcare provider’s advantage to find ways to lower the barrier to these interactions. Many hospitals have already expanded their visitation hours to better accommodate patients’ family and friends. Chris Clarke, who oversees the Tennessee Hospital Association’s Center for Patient Safety relays that “There is a renewed focus on patient-focused care that means better engaging with patients’ families.”
Visitation policies only go so far as they only apply to family and friends who can physically make it to the physical location. However the absence of a loved one can likewise have a negative effect on the patient’s recovery.
“Meanwhile, friends failing to turn up for a visit could actually be bad for the patient.
Not only are they deprived of the benefits of loving contact but their feelings of rejection activate the very areas of the brain that generate the sting of physical pain.”
-Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science Of Human Relationships
This is where technology can play a key role. High definition video conferencing systems, installed in patient rooms, offer another way for patients and their friends and family to connect. Given that the mirror neurons respond to observing the emotions of a patient’s visitor, the video component is actually key in generating a positive emotional state.
Video conferencing provides the experience of an in person visit, eliminates the awkwardness that can sometimes accompany a traditional phone call, and most importantly, can leave the patient feeling just as happy as they would in the case of an in-person visit due to the brain’s physiological reaction.
The benefits of video conferencing in remote patient diagnosis, increased access to specialists, and to higher quality care in rural areas have been well known for some time. However, there is an additional benefit to these systems in the case of providing communication between patients and loved ones in their time of need, resulting in better patient satisfaction.
It seems that in a scientific sense, misery does indeed love company, not to spread the negative, but rather to replace it with the positive.
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About Bob Higginbotham
Bob Higginbotham, CTS-I, CTS-D, is the Avidex National Manager of Healthcare AV. Bob has spent his 30 year career in leadership positions in the AV industry including extensive design and build work in healthcare facilities. He owned and operated a successful AV business in Texas with multiple offices in several cities where he managed a staff of over 100 employees. Bob has served as a technical consultant for a major AV manufacturer, led the technical sales team for a national video conferencing provider and provided technology auditing services for several private education facilities. He has a unique working knowledge of audiovisual technology as well as multiple certifications in audio engineering, acoustics, AV design, CQT system commissioning and video transmission systems. Bob holds a BA in communications and has recently served as board chair for a large private school. He brings his years of technical knowledge and leadership experience to Avidex where he leads the national healthcare AV team. Contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org