Art and Observation: Improving Patient Care Through Medical Humanities

“What do you see that suggests, reminds
you of a conversation, is the way these two hands are.” [Susan Dodge-Peters Daiss] The five question protocol
evolved over a number of years. It evolved in the medical field in response
to a concern that physicians were jumping to conclusions.
So the protocol was designed to slow the viewer down, to actually focus on how
they know what they know because we can’t be bias free, but we can be bias aware. [student] And that’s something I overlooked because I was so intently kind of focusing on
words like…” [Stephanie Brown-Clark] When I was in medical school I really saw a lot of cross-pollination
between skills that come from humanities and are necessary for clinical work. When
we bring medical students from the school to the Memorial Art Gallery to
teach the art and observation program, we are met with a lot of skepticism, but as
they engage with the art consistently they’re drawn into the conversation. [student] “She
has a white band across her like forehead at her hairline…” [Susan] The five
questions are: “What do you see?” “Does it remind you of anything?” “What’s the story here?” Then, “What information would help you
confirm your hypothesis?” and, “What have you learned about yourself as an
observer in this process?” [Natercia Rodrigues] I think the five question protocol perfectly parallels my experience within the doctor-patient relationship. In medicine,
we’re often making parallels to what we’ve seen before. This sounds like the
pneumonia I’ve heard before, this looks like you know a rash I’ve seen before.
Having that be a prompt in that observation course really makes perfect
sense within clinical practice. [Stephanie] They’re able to think about their interpretation and how that is conditioned by their biases and assumptions and the cognitive
shortcuts that can sometimes lead to diagnostic errors.
[Susan] “This knee, we don’t even see this leg.” The hope is that we’re building
habits of mind, slowing them down to begin with, to be more self-aware as
observers. [Stephanie] I hope that students will take away from this program the value of the
humanities and arts in their own education, not as a theoretical or as an
enrichment piece, but as a skill that can be applied to the care of the patients.
[Susan] “You’re using a reference…” [Natercia] Having the time to work in this coursework and appreciate these things gives me more space to pause and not rush to
conclusions and practicing that with art helps me be more mindful in practicing
that with patients.

Glenn Chapman

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