Doctor and Patient: Can Doctors Learn Empathy? – NYTimes.com

Good piece on empathy and doctors, and yes, it can be learned, and much of it is simple: less interruption, eye contact, maintain equanimity. Quote:

Curious to know whether the empathy course worked, I decided to try out what I had learned in researching this column. The next day at the hospital, I took extra care to sit down facing my patients and not a computer screen, to observe the changing expressions on their faces and to take note of the subtle gestures and voice modulations covered in the course. While I found it challenging at first to incorporate the additional information when my mind was already juggling possible diagnoses and treatment plans, eventually it became fun, a return to the kind of focused one-on-one interaction that drew me to medicine in the first place.

Just before leaving, one of the patients pulled me aside. “Thanks, Doc,” he said. “I have never felt so listened to before.”

Doctor and Patient: Can Doctors Learn Empathy? – NYTimes.com.

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2 thoughts on “Doctor and Patient: Can Doctors Learn Empathy? – NYTimes.com

  1. It is a very important concept that most doctors ignore because they are looking at the next appointment, often scheduling patients at 10-15 minute intervals. Although I read this blog because I have successfully recovered from prostate cancer in the last 7 months with a doctor who always listens and never rushes his patients (I left my previous urologist because 10-minutes was his limit and he was distracted and insensitive to the needs of his patients), I have had disheartening experiences with other doctors who wanted to do surgery rather than find out what was causing a particular problem. Case in point: I broke my hip two years ago and was experiencing some pain and discomfort, so I went back to my orthopedist who sat down with us in a relaxed manner and went on for almost a half-hour about how he could replace my partial hip with a full hip replacement or give me pain medication. I didn’t need nor want such an operation, nor did I want to be in and out of the hospital, the care center and physical therapy for more months or years. My wife and I tried to get our questions answered until the doctor actually got up and leaned toward the door. Tilted toward the door. Then, when we persisted for an answer, he grabbed my wife’s wrist and shook it, telling us that other patients were waiting. He also billed me $100.00 for the extra 15 minutes over the usual 15 minutes ($100.00). I refused to pay and bumped into my chiropractor at the post office. His diagnosis: Bursitus of the hip. Visited him twice and the pain and discomfort are gone. Completely. I have had so many medical professionals unwilling to spend the time to listen, that I hope more compassion as an element of healing.

    • David,

      Thanks for sharing. I have also been lucky with my transplant medical team as well as our family doctor. But your experience with the orthopedist reminds one of the importance of being an informed and empowered patient, and going elsewhere if your needs are not being met. Happy that you were able to avoid surgery. Andrew

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