Suffering. The very word made doctors uncomfortable. Medical journals avoided it, instructing authors to say that patients " 'have' a disease or complications or side effects rather than 'suffer' or 'suffer from' them," said Dr. Thomas H. Lee, the chief medical officer of Press Ganey, a company that surveys hospital patients.
But now, reducing patient suffering — the kind caused not by disease but by medical care itself — has become a medical goal. The effort is driven partly by competition and partly by a realization that suffering, whether from long waits, inadequate explanations or feeling lost in the shuffle, is a real and pressing issue. It is as important, says Dr. Kenneth Sands, the chief quality officer at Harvard's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, as injuries, like medication errors or falls, or infections acquired in a hospital.
The problem is how to measure it and what to do about it.
Dr. Sands and his colleagues decided to start by asking their own patients what made them suffer.
They found several categories. Communications — for example, a doctor blurting out, "Oh, it looks like you have cancer." Or losing a valuable, like a wedding ring. Or loss of privacy — a doctor discussing a patient's medical condition where an adjacent patient could hear.
"These are harms," Dr. Sands said. "They elicit suffering. They can be long lasting, and they currently are largely unquantified, uncounted, unrecorded."