Clinical empathy was once dismissively known as "good bedside manner" and traditionally regarded as far less important than technical acumen. But a spate of studies in the past decade has found that it is no mere frill. Increasingly, empathy is considered essential to establishing trust, the foundation of a good doctor-patient relationship.
Studies have linked empathy to greater patient satisfaction, better outcomes, decreased physician burnout and a lower risk of malpractice suits and errors. Patient satisfaction scores are now being used to calculate Medicare reimbursement under the Affordable Care Act. And more than 70 percent of hospitals and health networks are using patient satisfaction scores in physician compensation decisions.
"The pressure is really on," said psychiatrist Helen Riess. The director of the empathy and relational science program at Massachusetts General Hospital, she designed "Empathetics," a series of online courses for physicians. "The ACA and accountability for health improvement is really heightening the importance of a relationship" between patients and their doctors when it comes to boosting adherence to treatment and improving health outcomes.
CMDA Past President and Oncologist Al Weir, MD: “Is it possible to ‘instill empathy’ into our healthcare professionals, and is it a good thing to try?
“It is certainly good for us to have and demonstrate real compassion for our patients. Those of us who love Christ should have His compassion flowing naturally from us to those who are suffering. If we do not, there is something wrong with our relationship with the Christ. Perhaps, if we learn to love Him more, we will indeed love our patients more and demonstrate that compassion better.
“This is foremost, and all the training in the world cannot mimic true love for those we serve.
“However, though our character of love is most important, we certainly also need to develop communication skills to best demonstrate that love in a way that best demonstrates the heart of God. Communication skills can indeed be learned and practiced so that we ‘do best’ what we ‘are’ inside. I am familiar with the training instruments listed in this article. They, among others, can be quite valuable tools for Christian healthcare professionals to use in honing our skills, so that our communication actions might match our hearts of compassion.
“Just as a missionary physician must learn new roads to carry his message of Christ into the deserts of northern Sudan, all of us should learn new skills of communication through which we may best carry the message of God’s love to each patient we serve.”
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