How empathy helps patient and healthcare professional communication

Working in the field of empathy and emotional awareness and helping healthcare professionals optimise their own empathic abilities for both the patient, effective practice and their own self care, I am often met with…but it takes more time, which I don’t have. Or, staff are concerned at staying with, what I call, the emotional data. But coming from a counselling background, I know the benefits of listening to those subtle little clues in conversation that canb21e2c0a-30bf-42b7-80b3-fdc5ba82ab9f tell another what is really going on….what their emotional experience is. In medicine this too can have positive benefits to the therapeutic relationship and on going treatment plan.

A study by Wendy Levinson, MD; Rita Gorawara-Bhat, PhD; Jennifer Lamb, BS: A Study of Patient Clues and Physician Responses in Primary Care and Surgical Settings measured how often clinicians took the opportunity to demonstrate empathy to their patients. They found that clinicians who offered more empathy had shorter visits.

When patients experience empathy from a provider, they are more likely to trust the provider. With this trust comes better listening and greater likelihood to follow recommendations and directions. This increases the likelihood of good outcomes and reduces return visits.

The report found that:

Patient clues were typically embedded in the context of a discussion about a health problem. For example, a primary care patient might allude to a stressful life event when a physician comments on an elevated blood pressure reading. This subtle, non-overt nature of clues has important implications for physicians. Since these clues are hidden in the fabric of discussion about medical problems, physicians who are busy attending to the biomedical details of diagnosis and management may easily miss them.

The summery of the report found that:

Patients offer clues that present opportunities for physicians to express empathy and understand patients’ lives. In both primary care and surgery, physicians tend to bypass these clues, missing potential opportunities to strengthen the patient-physician relationship

Demonstrating Empathy Can Improve Your Day and well being too:

Most individuals enter healthcare because they want to do good in the world. Constantly encountering upset, angry patients or disgruntled co-workers can really dim the light on that dream. The skillful demonstration of empathy can act to de-escalate the situation. If you think of a heightened emotion as a tightly filled balloon, empathy is the thing that can slowly let the air out. Bit by bit, with each demonstration of empathy, the balloon is deflated and the emotion de-escalated – for both parties. Knowing how to calm a heightened situation gives you more control and allows you to escape some of your own emotional wear and tear. The key to empathy is not just feeling it, but knowing how to skillfully communicate it. Support from organisations and the leaders, by demonstrating and showing empathy to their work force, is also a key factor in empowering and promoting the communication of the human attribute of empathy to be utilised for the most effective healthcare.

Original source:

Learn more about recognising and reading emotional data and communicating empathy and developing self awareness on one of my next regional training course:

A Journey Through Complaints Using Empathy

12th May Stevenage, UK

28th June, Milton Keynes

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