Monday, November 4, 2013

Mechanical Empathy...Better Than None

Picture Illustrative
There are many barriers to doctor and patient communication that have been widely chronicled here and elsewhere. 

One common complaint I hear from my friends with a range of chronic conditions is that if doctors could just "experience what I'm describing they would treat me differently."

It is a simple truth that in the vast majority of cases doctors cannot literally "feel" the pain or symptoms that their patients are describing. Of course most doctors have had the common cold or the flu, and perhaps even a broken bone or two, but when it comes to more uncommon conditions, like autoimmune disease, it is unlikely they have actually experienced the conditions.  And I and many other patients I know believe that makes it harder for them to relate to what we are experiencing. My personal belief is that this comprehension gap between patient and doctor is one of the reasons that many with autoimmune conditions go undiagnosed for so long and the severity of their conditions at times may be dismissed. 

As a result, I was interested to see this this article from Medpage about an actual suit to help doctors physically experience some of the limitations that RA patients do.  [Read and see an actual picture here]. Gloves from the suit were made available to try on at the American College of Rheumatology Conference this past week in San Diego. While the suit is designed to be specific to RA, many autoimmune diseases involve joint stiffness, inflammation, and limited mobility, so in my opinion it has broader relevance for most rheumatologists.  Even wearing it for just a half an hour can give someone an idea of what it means to live with mobility limitations when trying to navigate simple tasks that most take for granted.  While I would never wish an autoimmune disease upon anyone, I believe it's very helpful for those treating it to have a glimpse of what their patients go through and to see why from a clinical perspective finding the most effective treatment can be so critical for the quality of patients' lives.

These suits obviously can't impart the experience of physical pain, fatigue, and the myriad of other symptoms that many autoimmune patients have, but maybe sometime in the not so far off future, computer simulations can be combined with suits like these to make the autoimmune experience even closer to "real" life.  It might seem like out of Star Trek, but who knows what the future holds.  I hope that this development may be a part of a trend that leads to faster diagnosis, more timely treatments, and patients feeling better understood when they walk out of their rheumatologists office.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is a fantastic idea for doctors!! :o) I am lucky enough to have a very empathetic doctor, but any advances that encourage doctors to be more empathetic are wonderful in my opinion.