Teaching Empathy in the Health Professions

For Dr. Robert Buckman, empathy is acknowledging patient’s fears and other emotions as shown in the Cleveland Clinic video shown above. Clinical empathy as defined by Sandra Boodman is the ability to stand in a patient’s shoes and to convey an understanding of the patient’s situation as well as the desire to help.

I have gone to more than one hemodialysis facility and experienced being under the care of various healthcare professionals (HCPs). Among the various sessions I went through, the ones I liked best are those when the nurses and resident doctors demonstrated empathy.

Hemodialysis, especially for a very anxious”newcomer”, can be very difficult. But dialysis can become (believe it or not,) something to look forward to if you are surrounded by HCPs “with a heart”. And, as simple as a smile or a warm greeting matters for hemodialysis patients staying for four hours in a facility and being “welcomed” by big needles at the start of the session. (I believe the other patients will agree with me) that we certainly don’t want to go home from the session remembering just the insertion and removal of the needles. A dose of empathy from the HCPs helps.

Several literature, such as the one in this link, mention that studies indeed show that empathy is associated with better patient outcomes and greater patient satisfaction.

Unfortunately, in the internet, some accounts about HCPs, including doctors not showing empathy to their patients while the latter are in their care, can be found. In social media, the opposite of empathy can be observed from some posts about patients made by some HCPs.

Researches too have shown that empathy may indeed be hard to come by for some healthcare professionals. Salynn Byles of WebMD cites one study wherein oncologists videotaped talking to their patients responded to opportunities for demonstrating empathy about only 2 out of 10 times. Instead the physicians more often discussed the patient’s clinical care. James Tulsky, director of the Duke Center for Palliative Care offers an explanation. He said that doctors are “explainaholics”. He added, “Our answer to distress is more information, that if a patient just understood it better, they would come around.”

There appears to be increasing interest on teaching empathy among health professionals. Columbia University of Medicine and medical faculty at Duke, University of Pittsburg are examples of institutions that developed programs to teach doctors empathy.

#HealthXPh recognizes the importance of empathy in the care of patients. Join us this Saturday, July 11 ( PM Philippine time as we discuss empathy in healthcare.

This week’s questions for the regular tweetchat are the following:

T1 How can HCPs demonstrate empathy?

T2 How can empathy be taught in health professions education?

T3. How can social media be utilized to teach empathy?

We look forward to your presence. Do not forget to use the hashtag #HealthXPh during the tweetchats.