“I can teach you medicine, but I cannot teach you to care” was a frequent saying from a mentor during my residency training. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is perhaps the most critical component in a doctor. It is also one that is sometimes missing today in many healthcare workers. I would venture that a lack of empathy is not just less in healthcare, but in our society in general. Do you care enough to care?
Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?
– Henry David Thoreau
Empathy is not just a good thing in abstraction but it translates to better business and better patient outcomes. In a study of orthopedic patients, 65% of patient satisfaction was attributed to empathy, the largest factor found in the study. Satisfaction was not significantly affected by wait time for an appointment, wait time in the office, time with the surgeon, resident/fellow involvement, whether or not patients were seeking a second opinion, health literacy, or treatment choice. Empathy was far more important. The study showed that physician empathy was the best opportunity to improve the patient experience. Research has shown empathy and compassion to be associated with better adherence to medications, decreased malpractice cases, fewer mistakes, in addition to increased patient satisfaction. This translates to better overall patient outcomes, fewer hospital readmissions and an improved bottom line for hospitals.
This video is from the Cleveland Clinic from a few years ago but it makes a very important point. If you could stand in someone else’s shoes; hear what they hear; see what they see; feel what they feel; Would you treat them differently?
56% of physicians said they lacked the time to be empathic, and 29% reported burn-out as the primary reason for their difficulty in being empathic. One criticism of telemedicine is the lack of an in-person personal connection to the patient. But empathy is a skill that can be utilized even through a remote connection. Telemedicine allows the provider to time-shift a patient encounter to a time and setting of their choosing. It changes their practice in a way that the provider has more time to show that they care.
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