Multiple research studies document a decline in empathy in medical practice that appears to begin in the third year of medical school and persists throughout residency. The pandemic has exacerbated this deterioration.

Today, empathy must be renewed in medical practice

In the past, the empathy bounced back after the rigors of training were over. But today, empathy must be renewed to help both patients and providers.

Physicians who lose sight of the meaning, purpose, and rewards of their roles in patients’ lives experience more burnout than those who remain connected to their purpose.

But what is empathy?

Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.”

It is the ability to put yourself in the place of the other and feel what that person is going through and share their emotions and feelings. It is the recognition and validation of a patient’s fear, anxiety, pain and worry. As well as the ability to understand the feelings of patients and facilitate more accurate diagnoses and more attentive treatment.

Expressing empathy with the patient actually advances humanism in healthcare; in fact, expressing empathy in medical care is THE KEY INGREDIENT to improve the experience and the encounter with the patient.

A key component of the doctor-patient relationship

Both empathy and compassion in healthcare play a vital role in the patient experience and are key components of the doctor-patient relationship.

When a patient comes to see their healthcare provider, the patient’s medical condition, be it a serious illness or injury, a chronic condition, or just a routine checkup. They will often manifest emotions such as anxiety, fear, and apprehension.

Patients want to know that they are receiving the best care, and that conveys when your care team is empathetic and compassionate.

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Why is empathy important?

Empathy extends well beyond the patient’s medical history, signs, and symptoms. It is more than a clinical diagnosis and treatment. Empathy encompasses a connection and understanding that includes the mind, body, and soul.

Expressing empathy is very effective and powerful, building patient confidence, calming anxiety, and improving health outcomes.

Research has shown that empathy and compassion are associated with better adherence to medications, a decrease in negligence cases, fewer errors, and greater patient satisfaction. Expressing empathy, one patient at a time, advances humanism in healthcare.

The role of empathy training

One of the most frequently asked questions about empathy training is, “Doesn’t this add even more time to the busy doctor’s day?”

In fact, it is not so. Empathic caring doesn’t have to take longer. Empathy training courses help healthcare professionals detect subtle emotional signals and nuances that indicate patient concerns so they can be addressed immediately.

In addition, when physicians convey empathy, they reassure patients and increase trust in the provider-patient relationship. This creates a dynamic that ensures that small problems are addressed before they become bigger problems.

Multiple studies have shown that better medical outcomes are also correlated with strong empathy and relational skills.

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