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Is modern medicine ill with dehumanization?
Date:3/19/2012

osis and treatment might necessitate "mechanization"breaking the body into organs and systems. Scaling back empathy can diminish staff stress and burnout. Even moral disengagement can be adaptive. From giving a shot to slicing into the flesh to perform surgery, medical care often requires inflicting pain or invading the boundaries of the body in violation of deeply held human taboos. And patients may die after even the best of care. For the professional, guilt could be paralyzing.

Still, the authors argue, dehumanization is useful only in "specific contexts," such as acute care. Waytz says, "Dehumanization's functionality varies wildly across specialities from pediatrics to orthopedic surgery, so future research is needed to determine when dehumanization is most prevalent and most detrimental." In the meantime, the authors offer numerous humanizing fixes: Call patients by name, not numbers; discourage labeling people as diseases; personalize hospital rounds and pre-surgical preparation; eliminate opaque surgical masks; affix photos to CT scans and biopsies. Include patients in care planning. Let them choose their gownsand design those gowns so they're no so humiliating. Increase physician diversity and hire people with good social skills. And, for med schools, perhaps most radical: Eliminate the "white-coat ceremony" when graduates don the mufti of the elect.

Finally, "we should train medical professionals to think of themselves as mortal sharing a common humanity and vulnerability with their patients," says Haque. Although dehumanization can be useful, "even functional dehumanization should be viewed like a potent, salutary, but dangerous drug that can have disastrous side-effects" when overprescribed.


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Contact: Lucy Hyde
lhyde@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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