There was a period of time in medical history where compassion for our patients wasn’t emphasized and was sometimes seen as an impediment to making proper care decisions. As studies of empathy in medicine have continued, it’s been revealed that it actually plays an essential role in the delivery of effective health care. Not only does it improve the overall patient experience, but it has also been revealed as essential in garnering a full understanding of the medical condition the patient is facing.
Understanding Empathy and How It Effects Medical Care
There is often some difficulty distinguishing between the terms sympathy and empathy. Empathy is defined as the ability of an individual to understand how another feels without having experienced what they have. Medical care is about more than just curing disease and correcting imbalances; it’s about helping a patient feel confident, secure, and hopeful about their future. Patients who experience empathy from their providers:
- Feel less anxiety about their condition
- Show better adherence to medical advice
- Experience greater hope about their recovery
- Demonstrate greater confidence in the care they receive
These elements may not seem important on the surface, but research shows that the patient’s attitude about their treatment can have a meaningful effect on their treatment. This is especially true when patients are facing chronic illness or other conditions that will have protracted healing times. Providers who make the time and effort to understand their patient’s experiences discover another unexpected benefit as well. Physicians who practiced empathy discovered that they were better able to diagnose their patient’s concerns, as their patients were more open with them and demonstrated greater willingness to coordinate with them in their care.
How To Know If Your Provider Makes Empathy A Priority At Their Practice
There are a few practices that will let you know whether or not your medical provider is focused on patient empathy. Given the immense benefits experienced by both provider and patient, it can pay to be a little vigilant about how you receive care. Watch for the following:
- Eye Contact – Does your physician make a point of meeting your eyes? This simple habit ensures they see you as a person, not a condition.
- Personal Details – Physicians who use your name, remember your family members, and make a point of simple things like pronouncing your name correctly care enough to pay attention to the little things.
- Show Support – When they identify that you are becoming upset, they take steps to help comfort you or provide you with hope. They also ask about your condition and what may be causing the additional discomfort.
- Take Extra Time – Do they take the time to listen to you? Or do they focus on getting you seen, learning about your condition, and getting you out the door? If they make sure they’ve heard and addressed your concern, they’re showing they care.
These few pieces of evidence can help you identify empathy in your practitioner. Physicians who just see you as a condition to be treated aren’t providing you with the best care; make sure you see someone who cares as much about your health as you do.