The Importance of Dignity in Healthcare

Whoever comes to a medical consultation is, above all, a human being. However, sometimes, an overload of work or lack of training in clinical practice can contaminate this idea and its associated perceptions. This is why healthcare model centered on dignity is important.
The Importance of Dignity in Healthcare
Gorka Jiménez Pajares

Written and verified by the psychologist Gorka Jiménez Pajares.

Last update: 29 August, 2023

Dignity is non-negotiable, or at least it should be. Indeed, we might think that treatment that takes into account, above all, the human condition is an absolute necessity, whether for treating mental or physical health problems. But, even though the vast majority of professionals try to humanize their interventions, there are situations in which this isn’t the case.

Dignity in health care implies respect. People who go to a health professional usually do so under two circumstances: the vulnerability they perceive in their state of health and the trust they place in the expert. Therefore, it’s essential that the professional displays empathic, assertive, and compassionate behaviors.

“In illnesses one should keep two things in mind, to be useful rather than cause no harm.”


man in therapy
Empathic treatment in psychological therapy is essential.

The importance of dignity in healthcare

The individual who visits a doctor is a human being, even if they’re labeled as a patient. In fact, the term patient is often questioned in the field of mental health. We’ll explain why.

As a matter of fact, the answer can be found in the meaning of being a patient. It implies passively waiting for an act of healing. However, in the field of mental health, the objective pursued with an intervention is usually the opposite. It’s to help the individual actively (instead of passively) find new ways of perceiving their context and implement new behaviors that make them feel better.

Humanizing implies addressing the nature of the human being from its three aspects: organic, psychic, and social (Hernández, 2008). In mental health, problems usually occur in certain contexts. For example, family relationships, work, or interpersonal relationships. They usually have a biological correlate (eg. the hyperactivation of the habenula when we feel disappointed) and a psychological correlate (eg. symptoms of depression).

In talking about the humanization of interventions, we’re referring to the behaviors that make the professional closer, more personable, and natural. Health professionals are called upon to offer their experience and knowledge without distinctions or discrimination to those who visit them. They should prioritize sensitive behaviors and attend to their patients in an optimal and precise manner (Olarte, 2011).

“Respect for life, the dignity of human beings and their rights, regardless of age, creed, sex, race, nationality, language, culture, socioeconomic status and political ideology.”

-Claudia Ariza Olarte-

An approach to dignity in healthcare

All professionals have been trained for a considerable number of years before they put themselves in front of patients. But, how many aspects of humanitarian treatment do they study during their training? In reality, there are few. Indeed, we tend to take humanitarian treatment for granted. We consider it to be inherent to the role of a doctor, nurse, or psychologist. But, this viewpoint can be wrong.

As a matter of fact, humanitarian treatment is far from being innate. It must be learned and practiced. Its objective is to correct automatic (and to a certain extent normal) behaviors that we all exhibit, but that can be hurtful for certain vulnerable people who put their trust in professionals.

“Prudence is fundamental in the comments that are made in front of the sick person.”

-Claudia Ariza Olarte-

psychologist with patient
Respect and active listening in psychological therapy strengthen the bond between therapist and patient.

Elements to consider

As a result of our earlier reflections, we’re now going to list the elements that a healthcare model focused on dignity should contain. However, there may be many more.

  • Training in respectful and humanitarian treatment, based on empathy and compassion.
  • Appropriate use of knowledge and technology.
  • Training in professional self-care practices. As such, the patient should take care of themselves.
  • Combination of objective diagnosis and treatment. Professionals should pay subjective attention to the affective and sociocultural discomfort of the patient.
  • Training in assertive communication.
  • Periodic recycling in deontological training.

Furthermore, it’s essential to call the person by name (Olarte, 2011). It may seem obvious, but it’s all too easy to ‘dehumanize’ the individual who comes to consultation. And, using terms such as oncology patient, patient with depression, or patient with muscle dysmorphia can be extraordinarily dehumanizing. After all, people are far from ‘being’ the problems they suffer from. They’re a great deal more. They’re human beings with their own names and unique biographical histories.

People visit medical professionals because they’re ill. But, this shouldn’t imply that the professional perceives themselves to be superior. In fact, the situation demands extreme respect. In the words of Claudia Ariza, “It seems to demand greater veneration and care in dealing with them.” Indeed, due to their vulnerability, patients deserve to be treated with respect.

“To do this, it is necessary to humanize oneself in order to humanize others, and recognize one’s own values that allow one to act according to who needs it.”

-Paula Andrea Hoyos Hernández-

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Hoyos Hernández, P. A., Cardona Ramírez, M. A., & Correa Sánchez, D. (2008). Humanizar los contextos de salud, cuestión de liderazgo. Investigación y educación en enfermería, 26(2), 218-225.
  • Ariza Olarte, C. (2012). Soluciones de humanización en salud en la práctica diaria. Enfermería universitaria, 9(1), 41-51.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.