Doctors need empathy, STAT!

6a0105369e3ea1970b0148c804512f970c 320wi - Doctors need empathy, STAT! A recent study out of the University of Toronto videotaped session with oncologists and found that only 22% showed empathy at times when patients needed it.  

That’s too bad, not just because it’s cold and cruel – but because a large body of evidence is showing that empathy in conventional medical settings can make a big difference in patient outcomes. 

In 1997 Dr. Art Bohart and Dr. Leslie Greenberg published a book entitled “Empathy Reconsidered.” This text presented research that supported the theory that empathy in therapy room can aid in improving outcomes for individuals. Since then additional research has shown that empathy can promote healing on the physical level, as well as the psychological.  Now the new University of Toronto study has shown that clinical empathy (empathy within the confines of traditional clinical setting like hospitals and doctors’ offices), can improve a patients’ satisfaction with their care and encourage them to follow through with their treatment plans. Hospital administrators would be most interested in an additional fact the study found:  increases in patient empathy lowered malpractice complaints.

Another study lead by Dr. Ronald Epstein professor of Family Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and published in the December Journal of General Internal Medicine showed that revealed that empathy was lacking in many exams in Rochester, NY. When empathy was present, the level of trust within a doctor patient relationship increased. Patients in this study reported that they felt most satisfied when their doctor empathized with them and when a medical answer was not certain.

This research shows that empathy is an important tool for medical treatment that must be taught in medical school. Our culture’s romance with clinical detachment needs to give way to the evidence: being empathetic to a patient isn’t just humane, it’s an essential part of basic medical practice, like washing one’s hands.  Increasing communication between the doctor and client will have a positive impact on how well the doctor understands what a patient’s real needs are;  having a bond with their physician helps patients more successfully complete their treatment regimens. 

Empathy is more than just a tool for well being, the research studies around empathy have shown that the empathic process is an aspect of connecting with one another; and that connection strengthens our own ability to heal.

— Makenna Berry 

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