Helping Doctors Embrace Empathy During Care

Helping Doctors Embrace Empathy During Care

More hospitals are changing the way they care for patients. The “treat ‘em and street ‘em” philosophy is giving way to emotional connections to ensure a patient’s recovery sticks. However, if a doctor is not being empathetic with your family member, you don’t have to stay silent and let it happen. You can act.

More and more studies show there is a relationship between empathy on the part of doctors and positive clinical outcomes. For example, a recent study found that diabetes patients of physicians with high empathy scores were significantly more likely to have good control over their blood sugar as well as cholesterol, while the opposite was true for patients of physicians with low empathy scores.

Because of this growing data, more hospitals are training their doctors on how to provide empathy. It improves the patient experience and gets the entire medical staff higher scores when it comes to quality. Medical professionals find that when they express more empathy it creates stronger connections with patients and this, in turn, makes it more fulfilling for a doctor to do his or her job.

While some doctors remain skeptical, the Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General proved it could successfully train residents and staff to understand to another person’s feelings.

Carla Rotering, a pulmonologist at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Phoenix, knows a patient’s family can take an active role in helping a physician to understand the importance of empathy. In a blog post, she told a story about her granddaughter:

“My granddaughter Zoey was nine when she was injured in a terrible accident. After hours of poking and testing, the emergency room physician began to stitch lacerations in her head when Zoey whimpered, ‘Ouch!’ Her doctor responded, ‘That couldn't hurt. I numbed it. And you have to lie still.’ Zoey, motionless, wept. ‘It HURTS!’ Again the doctor denied this possibility, ‘There's no way it could! Now please lie still!’ Simply witnessing this exchange was unbearable. I finally asked the physician to step out of the room for a moment and said, ‘I am asking you to listen to her and accept her feelings. Zoey knows what she is going through, and she is the expert on her experience.’ Sadly, this competent physician lacked mindful tools to express her empathy and Zoey suffered as a result."

What Rotering did is something any family member can do. Doctors are supposed to respond not only to the feelings of their patients, but also to the feelings of their family members. In Rotering’s example, she continues to show the doctor respect while drawing her attention to what should be obvious. It’s possible that if the doctor showed Rotering’s granddaughter more empathy then Zoey would hold still like she needed to. When a patient gets comfort in addition to care, it eases the stress of a situation and that makes them more eager and comfortable in their recovery.

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