Patient-Centered Care in an iPatient World

Patient-Centered Care in an iPatient World


A guest post written by Steven Salt, media spokesperson and legislative contact for Christian Science in Ohio.

Ever think about the origins of the barber pole with its red and white strips and brass cup?  It represents the bloody bandages of the barber profession from centuries ago which included performing surgeries and dentistry for customers. You can guess what the cup was used for.

Present-day doctoring has advanced in so many ways since the days of knives and bloodletting.  Now there is robotic surgery and nuclear medicine. The training and expertise needed by today’s physician attest to the skills required to operate complex instruments and the software that runs them.

And while the advancement of these innovating technologies has been welcomed in the health care community, experts are questioning whether the patient has been left behind in the push towards modernized medical treatment.  Welcome to the world of the “iPatient.”

“The patient in the bed has become an icon,” according to Abraham Verghese, M.D., renowned physician, author, and senior associate chair for the theory and practice of medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine.   He spoke at the Fifth Annual Medical-Spirituality Conference sponsored by Boonshoft School of Medicine, Wright State University.

Verghese suggests the purpose of admission to a hospital is to “render the live 3-dimensional patient into a 2-dimensional image.”  In other words the patient is viewed from screens, displays, and readouts. This rise in “remote diagnosis” is to help speed the treatment process, especially when several specialists are involved.  That can often lead to stress and other issues that adversely impact healing, according to Verghese.

The work that goes on behind a monitor and in the conference room on behalf of the patient can actually promote a feeling of inattentiveness on the patient’s part.  A sense of isolation and lack of connectivity ensue, feelings that do not encourage healing.  “We are hungry for Love, for the white-winged charity that heals and saves,” wrote Mary Baker Eddy, a late 19th/early 20th century pioneer in the research linking consciousness and spirituality to well-being.

A 2-demensional patient is really a misnomer.  In fact a 3-dimensional patient is also an inaccurate rendering of man and womanhood.   The intangibles of being, things like love, compassion, confidence, hope, and other qualities point to the multidimensional facets of the individual, aspects that cannot be ignored in securing healthy outcomes and furthering long lives.

Verghese points to the intricacies of patient care when referring to something as simple as a doctor’s tone of voice. He remarked during the conference that his or her bedside manner and attitude can have a placebo (positive) or nocebo (negative) effect on the patient.

A vocal advocate for patients, Verghese says that the new buzzword in health care delivery is “patient satisfaction.” While striving for quality has been the focus of health professionals for some time, patient-centered care is getting a lot of attention.  Seeing the patient as an integral part of the healing process will help in the drive towards quality care.

Verghese quoted Dr. Francis Peabody, early 20th century internal medicine specialist responsible for establishing hospitals in the U.S. and China. He too was a strong supporter of the patient. “For the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.” That’s the bedrock of health care.

Steven Salt is a writer and blogger about health, spirituality and thought.  He is a Christian Science practitioner, curious about everything.  You can follow him on Twitter @SaltSeasoned

About the author

Guest We are pleased to present Notes from the Field authors, who are assistant committees and church members in the Southern California region; and Notes from The Mother Church authors, who are Committees from the United States and around the world, as well as the Federal Committee on Publication office.


  1. Evelyn Brookins says

    This view can’t be reiterated enough. Has medical practice overlooked the patient’s involvement in his own health and well-being? The assumption is that illness and disease are independent of anyone’s ability to affect them – without medical intervention. But the individual always has the ability to change the bodily condition – this is demonstrated over and over in simple every day life. Add an understanding of the power of the divine energies to uplift and inspire the thoughts that produce harmony – the body so often responds, sometimes instantly.

  2. Loving Grandma says

    Boy do I hear you. We have a wee new grandson still in expert hospital care, with people giving the best care in their view for a mostly healthy boy. Mama and Dad visit daily, and the symptoms supposedly keeping him there are not in evidence when he is in the arms of his mother. Everyone wants what is most right for this cherub. How about more Mom and less 2-D monitors?

  3. Anne says

    How interesting to learn about the barber pole with the red and white stripes. I used to see those things around town when I was a little girl and just thought they were for fun.

    I responded to the “intangibles of being” you wrote about. Those great qualities can lift the burden of ill health quickly. I’ve seen it happen.

    Dr. Verghess emphasizes the importance of the doctor/patient relationship and the Samaritan function of physicians. This outlook represents compassionate caring at its best. Doctors, who are listening to patients and discovering their deeper needs, are offering a valuable service which can aid in healing.

    I love hearing about these surgeons who are seeing the bigger picture, the whole man, who is much more than just his body parts; oh, so much more.

    A great blog and thanks for sharing it.

  4. Ann says

    Thank you for keeping us abreast of the current practice of whole-patient care. The point of this article about being a 3-dimensional rather than 2-dimensional patient is so important. Several years ago, I had surgery for what was considered a serious broken leg bone. What I recall was the evident caring of the physician, nurse and aides. As a Christian Scientist, I also had spiritual support from a Christian Science practitioner. One evening, one of the regular aides came in while I was reading from the Bible and said that what I was doing then had more healing than anything anything else. I remember being so grateful for the loving care.

  5. Pamela says

    This patient care scene cannot be written about too much. We need to understand that people’s bodies are not just robots to fix this part and that part so it works better. The physicians who consider the whole man when working with patients is greatly needed and appreciated. People need to know that their doctor cares about them, and not just their body. Hooray for doctors like Dr. Verghess, we need more like that.

    Thanks for this blog Steven. It was a real eye opener. And to the Grandma who commented, if that baby is not showing any signs of a problem when in his mommy’s arms then get this child out of there right now. Too many times doctors use cases like the one you mentioned almost as a science experiment because they don’t know what is wrong they keep testing and experimenting. You are correct he needs more mommy and less 2-D monitors.

  6. Kathie Kilgore says

    Thanks for this. Indeed, the “patient” is the perturbed thought – the mortal belief – not the image and likeness of God….