Response: Wanted – More Empathic Doctors

Response: Wanted – More Empathic Doctors

By James P. Oberman, M.D., F.A.C.S.
Institute for Healthcare Excellence Faculty

“Detached concern” is no longer enough; in fact, it detracts from a quality patient experience.


In Neil Chesanow’s recent piece “Patients (and Insurers) to Doctors: More Empathy, Please!” featured in Medscape, Mr. Chesanow makes the following statement:

“If you work in a hospital, an outpatient practice owned by a hospital, or an independent practice, or if you are a member of an accountable care organization (ACO), training in how to empathically communicate with patients may be in your future. That’s because the traditional paradigm for good bedside manner-detached concern-is now being viewed by insurers, health plans, and hospital systems as being too detached, when surveys show that patients want more interpersonal connectedness with and trust in their physicians.”

Evidence repeatedly has shown that patients judge the quality of their healthcare provider encounters based upon the connection, not simply “getting the correct diagnosis.” They expect that healthcare providers are knowledgeable. Ultimately, patients are seeking a genuine connection with their providers. The paradigm has shifted from the provider-centered  care to patient-centered care.

(Related – Excellent Communication Leads To Excellent Care)

“Detached concern” is no longer enough; in fact, it detracts from a quality patient experience. Patients  need and want to be heard, as they  truly are the “experts on themselves.” When providers practice the skill of uninterrupted active/reflective listening, along with genuine empathic concern, patients feel engaged. More empathic doctors and better engagement improves the patient experience and, ultimately, compliance with  prescribed treatment plans.

The Institute for Healthcare Excellence (IHE) has established a  curriculum which teaches discreet skills to improve the patient experience of care. The curriculum established by the IHE has been implemented nationwide, at tertiary medical centers, academic centers, community hospitals, ambulatory care centers, public health centers and military treatment facilities alike.

Consistently, course participants comment that “they wish they had learned these skills” earlier in their professional careers, as they are experiencing improved personal/provider job satisfaction, improved patient satisfaction scores, overall better compliance with treatment regimens and reduced sentinel events/near misses and litigation.

(Related – The Problem With Patient Experience)

George Bernard Shaw has said “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” The practice of “detached concern” by providers assumes that communication has occurred, from the provider-centric perspective.

However, the foundation of the  connection between healthcare providers and patients depends upon effective and genuine bi-directional communication. The previous paradigm of “detached concern” by healthcare providers degrades the patient-provider rapport, and the overall patient experience. This, in turn, actually prevents effective and genuine communication.

Effective communication can, and should, be taught.  It also must be practiced. The majority of healthcare providers have never received formal effective communication training, however.  This is a healthcare imperative. The IHE program is here to help!

Connect with Dr. Oberman on LinkedIn and follow him via his Twitter account.

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