Quality Healthcare Includes Empathy
A man walks into an emergency room with an intense pain in his abdomen. He is hoping to find a doctor who knows how to treat him. The doctor enters his room and begins robotically palpating his abdomen, showing no hint of recognition for the pain he is in. The man begins to ask himself, “Does this doctor care that I am in extreme pain?” He then wonders, “If he doesn’t care that I am in pain, how motivated can he be to ease my pain?” This might seem like a silly question. If the physician didn’t care about healing people, why would he become a doctor? Modern technology has caused doctors to become complacent and emotionally detached from their patients. Doctors must be empathetic towards their patients in order to deliver quality healthcare despite the lack of time they have for their patients.
The patient’s perception of the doctor in this situation is that he lacks empathy. Empathy can be described as the ability for one person to understand another’s feelings and thoughts. The role of empathy in healthcare is very important; more specifically, it is crucial for doctors to be able to effectively express empathy without compromising their primary objective, which is to diagnose and treat patients.
While the science of medicine is primarily based on the function of the human body, it cannot be ignored that emotional health plays a vital role in a patient’s quality of life. Improving physical health will inevitably improve emotional health. The appropriate way to approach healing is with an understanding of this concept. In the article “Empathy in Medicine—A Neurobiological Perspective,” Dr. Helen Rice states:
Empathetic physicians can obtain critical information and insights that affect quality of care and, ultimately, medical outcomes. Lack of empathy dehumanizes patients and shifts physicians' focus from the whole person to target organs and test results. Evidence supports the physiological benefits of empathic relationships, including better immune function, shorter post-surgery hospital stays, fewer asthma attacks, stronger placebo response, and shorter duration of colds. (Rice, 2010)
It is necessary that doctors have the ability to feel empathy toward their patients. They should be able to communicate an appropriate level of concern for their patient’s state and then be able to work through a diagnosis with the patient. Although empathy is vital, patients must understand that it is a doctor’s primary goal to discover what is causing their ailment. While sadness and pain can be indicative symptoms, they are not generally the cause of the injury or illness; therefore, the doctor must be able to acknowledge these symptoms and then proceed to obtain other evidence to arrive at an accurate diagnosis.
Effective communication can help the doctor and the patient understand the what, where, why and how of an illness. In order for patients to feel open to this level of...