Empathy is the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes. It’s the effort to feel what others feel and understand their emotions, which is the key to understanding other people’s experiences.
This kind of understanding is exactly what doctors should strive for when caring for their patients, whether in a hospital, nursing home, or other healthcare setting. However, doctors are often trained to approach every case with a level of objectivity that can contradict the benefits of empathy in healthcare.
Objectivity is a critical component in diagnosing health concerns and devising treatment plans. But health issues impact people emotionally, not just biologically. Fears and anxieties can affect everything from the patient’s adherence to medications to the effectiveness of certain types of treatments.
To provide optimal care, physicians and specialists must recognize the significance of patient emotions and the importance of empathy in health and nursing care.
Balancing Objectivity, Empathy, and Healthcare
Empathy makes the industry more supportive. Consider these examples of empathy in healthcare: A doctor who is sensitive to patients’ suffering can connect with them on a much deeper level. If the doctor advises undergoing a certain treatment plan or taking certain medications, the patient will have more trust in that advice.
On the other hand, becoming emotionally involved can cloud someone’s judgment. Doctors may take risks they wouldn’t otherwise or be more cautious than the situation warrants. Both of these outcomes lead to an improper level of care.
Too much detachment, however, and there won’t be a connection between the physician and the patient. If the physician seems distant or responds coldly to the patient’s questions and concerns, then the patient may feel like they don’t care. Any deviation from treatment or failure to take medication will simply be deemed non-adherence, and the patient will be considered uncooperative.
Providing compassionate care means balancing both sides of the equation. Even though it is important for physicians to objectively assess a patient’s health concerns, it’s also important for physicians to prioritize empathy in healthcare communication when they acknowledge the results of patient assessments. At Marquis, we believe physicians need to take into account the patient’s emotional state and the impact health concerns can have on their lives.
Empathy in Healthcare
Studies show that nurturing a more empathic relationship can lead to better outcomes for patients, fewer disputes with healthcare providers, and higher reimbursements due to greater patient satisfaction. On a more day-to-day basis, it also makes caring for patients a more rewarding experience.
So how does one balance objectivity and empathy? We believe it begins with listening. Here’s how to show empathy in healthcare:
1. First, be aware of moments that lend themselves to the highest levels of empathy. Are you about to deliver a difficult medical diagnosis? Is your patient feeling hopeless? Are family members continually asking whether their loved one will be OK? Evaluate people’s expressions and actions. You’ll know the moments when you see them.
2. Listen carefully for what isn’t being said. Patients don’t always explicitly state their feelings, needs, and values. However, they will express themselves, and you can pick up on these feelings with an empathetic ear.
3. Stay present. On average, doctors listen to their patients for only 11 seconds. Look patients in the eye, respond when appropriate, and don’t let your thoughts shift elsewhere. A patient will notice if you’re not really listening or paying attention.
4. Look for cues that the patient has completed their thought before speaking. For example, you’ll know it’s OK to jump in when someone drops off at the end of a sentence or shifts positions when sitting.
5. Reflect on difficult or emotional conversations. Don’t push them out of your mind after the patient leaves. Get to know your patient by contemplating how things went and noting what to say during future conversations.
Empathy in healthcare should be a standard practice, but the industry can feel draining sometimes. Objectivity is easier to fall back on, but you don’t have to choose. At Marquis Health Services, we don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. We believe that compassion and empathy in healthcare are what makes physicians the best they can be.