Literature alters perspective on medical care


POSTED: Monday, February 08, 2010

About 20 doctors, nurses, trustees, administrators and other personnel at Kahi Mohala gained new perspectives on clinical practice in an innovative program built on books about the doctor-patient relationship.

The program, “;Literature & Medicine: Humanities at the Heart of Health Care,”; was funded by a $4,500 grant from the Hawaii Council for the Humanities.

The aim is to promote reflection on the broader mission of medicine through discussions of the treatment experience through the “;lens”; of literature—books like “;The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures.”;

The result, by all accounts, has been deeper job satisfaction, better cultural understanding and more empathy with patients.

“;The idea is to get people working together in those environments to talk about something other than the kidney in 323,”; said Craig Howes, director of the University of Hawaii Center for Biographical Research. Howes picked the reading list along with Lori Stark, Kahi Mohala staff development coordinator.

The talks inspired a lot of empathy among the participants and interest in seeing “;if we can improve the way we work with people,”; Stark said.

Added Leonard Licina, chief executive officer of the behavioral health facility, “;The reading lends itself to looking through other people's eyes at health care.”;

Created by the Maine Humanities Council, the program is unique nationally, drawing together a cross section of health care professionals with those from the humanities.

The Hawaii Council for the Humanities conducted two pilot programs at the Queen's Medical Center and Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children in 2007. Subsequent participants include Queen's and Kaiser Permanente. At Kahi Mohala, Howes facilitated six sessions, and Juliet Kono Lee facilitated a session on her book, “;The Tsunami Years.”;

“;We're excited that we're able to offer the Literature and Medicine Program to hospitals and institutions,”; said Kim Schauman, director of grants and special projects at Hawaii Council.

When participants read the literature and discuss it, she said, “;it helps them step back from their daily lives, re-evaluate the sense of purpose for their work and communication in their hospital and the effectiveness of that communication.”;

The program breaks down the institutional hierarchy, with participants on a first-name basis and sharing a meal before the discussion.

“;Part of our reading is understanding how different cultures understand health care,”; Licina said.

Some of the readings go back to the 1800s, he said.

“;While technology has changed, some human issues haven't changed very much,”; Licina said.