How Do Physicians Provide Empathetic Care to Patients?

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    Doctors Magazine

    How Do Physicians Provide Empathetic Care to Patients?

    In the quest to provide compassionate and understanding care, we've gathered insights from nine medical professionals, including Physicians and Psychologists. They share their wisdom on everything from using active listening to understand patient stories to embracing cultural sensitivity, ensuring every patient feels heard and valued.

    • Active Listening to Understand Patient Stories
    • Foster Open Communication
    • Confirm Patient Feelings
    • Employ a Team Approach
    • Allocate Time for Trust-Building
    • Draw on Personal Empathy
    • Validate Patient Emotions
    • Listen Actively and Communicate Clearly
    • Embrace Cultural Sensitivity

    Active Listening to Understand Patient Stories

    Being an empathetic healthcare provider involves actively listening to patients without judgment and allowing them to express their concerns openly and honestly. I personally feel it is important to meet patients where they are, and to recognize that their cultural influences and lived experiences are different from my own. Understanding what is important to a person fosters trust and allows me to offer medical recommendations and treatment options they might more readily understand and accept.

    I currently work entirely with individuals who are homeless, which requires an even higher level of empathetic care. This experience has taught me that every patient has a story, often filled with struggles and resilience. Empathy, in this context, goes beyond understanding symptoms; it involves recognizing the humanity in each individual. It's about making patients feel seen and valued, regardless of their circumstances.

    It is a tragedy that our medical system doesn't allow adequate time for providers to deliver care as empathetically as they should in all situations. For my part, when I'm feeling rushed, running behind schedule, or overall have had a bad day, I remember that it is not the patient's fault that this is our system, and they are seeing me because they feel poorly or are worried about something. Then I take a breath, clear my mind of whatever else has happened during the day, and focus on the person in front of me.

    Rebecca Moran MdPhysician, Circle the City

    Foster Open Communication

    At Unique Pain Medicine, our motto is 'Every patient is unique.' I cannot emphasize enough the importance of listening to each patient. By fostering open communication, I strive to create a supportive environment where patients feel heard and valued. I often find that by approaching care from the patient's perspective, it allows us to address all concerns. Only then can we best provide humanistic and compassionate care.

    Steven J. Mann, MdInterventional Pain Physiatrist, Unique Pain Medicine

    Confirm Patient Feelings

    Essentially, I ask them. I will often say something like, "So what I'm hearing you say is...," and then I try to summarize and include the feeling tone that I am getting from the patient. That gives them the chance to confirm or adjust my understanding as needed.

    Sidney Dane Treat
    Sidney Dane TreatPhysician and Regional Director, QuikMed

    Employ a Team Approach

    I always work closely with families and children to ensure that we are supporting them in every way we can. I always try to use a team approach to best meet each child's needs. Each child is a whole world, and we want them to feel well taken care of.

    Adina ShragePsychologist

    Allocate Time for Trust-Building

    Ensuring empathetic care is central to my approach—first, I allocate ample time during appointments, providing a space for patients to openly share their concerns and the impact on their lives. This dedicated time fosters trust and ensures their narratives are heard.

    Maintaining eye contact and physically orienting towards patients, despite the demands of electronic medical records, is crucial. It establishes a connection, making patients feel seen and valued.

    Recognizing patients as individuals, not just medical cases, is integral to designing personalized treatment plans. Understanding their stories builds trust, a fundamental component of adherence to discussed treatment plans. In a healthcare landscape where patients often feel shuffled from one provider to another, even small gestures of kindness and genuine interest can significantly impact their care experience.

    Ultimately, this comprehensive approach to empathy not only enhances the patient-doctor relationship but also contributes to improved health outcomes. Patients who feel understood and cared for are more likely to actively engage in their treatment, resulting in a more positive and effective healthcare outcome.

    Elisha Peterson Md Med Faap Fasa
    Elisha Peterson Md Med Faap FasaAnesthesiologist and Pain Medicine Physician, Elisha Peterson MD PLLC

    Draw on Personal Empathy

    In my role as a naturopathic doctor specializing in fertility, the essence of my practice is deeply rooted in empathetic care, a commitment shaped by a tapestry of personal experiences. The journey I have traveled, marked by contrasts of empathetic and non-empathetic care, has been instrumental in molding my approach to patient care into one that prioritizes understanding and compassion.

    A transformative chapter in my life was the loss of my mother to cancer. This harrowing experience deepened my well of empathy, exposing me to the raw fragility of life and the intricate challenges faced by those battling terminal illnesses, as well as the profound impact on their families. Navigating sorrow and support allowed me to forge a unique connection with my patients, one that is rooted in a profound understanding stemming from personal loss.

    My own path to motherhood was equally complex and enlightening. It was a journey laden with challenges, including a decade-long ovulatory disorder and an emergency cesarean section, which has allowed me to have an understanding of the multifaceted nature of pregnancy and childbirth. This period of my life was further compounded by the grief of losing both my mother and grandmother. Facing these monumental losses without my matrilineal support before the birth of my daughter imprinted upon me a deep understanding of the emotional whirlwind that accompanies infertility and gave me an intimate awareness of the physical and emotional hurdles faced during pregnancy and new parenthood.

    These life-altering experiences have shaped not only who I am as a person but also how I practice as a naturopathic doctor specializing in fertility. The depth of empathy I possess is a direct result of traversing through these personal challenges and losses. It allows me to connect with my patients on a much deeper level, understanding their struggles and emotions from a place of genuine experience. This empathetic approach is the foundation upon which my practice is built, guiding me to offer care that goes beyond the clinical and into the realm of heartfelt understanding and support. As I continue to guide my patients through their fertility journeys, I am constantly reminded of the strength and resilience of the human spirit, and the profound impact that compassionate, empathetic care can have. My mission remains steadfast: to not only treat but to heal, and to not just be a doctor, but an ally in each of my patients' unique journeys.

    Rosia ParrishNaturopathic Doctor, Naturopathic Wellness Center of Boulder

    Validate Patient Emotions

    Empathy is an important trait for healthcare providers to have, especially when working closely with patients. It involves the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. In a medical setting, empathy can greatly impact the patient's experience and overall satisfaction with their care.

    Active listening involves giving your full attention to the patient, making eye contact, and using non-verbal cues such as nodding or leaning in. It also means not interrupting or finishing their sentences for them. By actively listening, you are showing that you value their thoughts and feelings. This can help build trust and rapport with the patient, making them feel more comfortable opening up to you.

    Another way to ensure empathetic care is by taking the time to get to know your patients on a personal level. Asking about their life outside of their medical concerns can show that you see them as more than just a patient. This can also provide valuable information about their lifestyle and potential factors that may affect their health. Additionally, taking the time to explain medical information in a way that is easily understandable for the patient can show empathy and ensure that they feel fully informed.

    It's also important to acknowledge and validate your patient's emotions. Health concerns can bring up a range of feelings such as fear, frustration, or sadness. Validating these emotions can help the patient feel understood and supported. You can also offer resources or referrals for additional support if needed.

    Lastly, regular self-reflection is necessary to ensure that you are providing empathetic care. Take time to assess your interactions with patients and consider if there are any areas where you could improve in showing empathy.

    Ryan Hetrick
    Ryan HetrickCEO, Epiphany Wellness

    Listen Actively and Communicate Clearly

    As an addiction expert, I ensure that I'm providing empathetic care to each of my patients by listening actively and communicating clearly. Listening actively means that I pay attention to what the patient is saying without interrupting, judging, or imposing my own opinions or solutions. I express genuine interest and curiosity in their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and try to understand their perspective and situation.

    Communicating clearly means that I use simple and respectful language and avoid jargon or technical terms. I provide the patient with accurate and relevant information, education, and guidance, tailored to their needs and goals. I also address their confidentiality concerns honestly and let them know that I respect their privacy and will comply with the protections provided by law. By listening actively and communicating clearly, I aim to build trust and rapport with my patients, and to help them feel valued and supported.

    Trent Carter
    Trent CarterNurse Practitioner, Founder, Curednation

    Embrace Cultural Sensitivity

    To provide empathetic care to patients who come from a variety of backgrounds, I believe that cultural awareness is an essential component in the healthcare industry. It is important to acknowledge that patients may have diverse cultural ideas, attitudes, and traditions that impact the decisions they make regarding their healthcare. You should approach each patient with an open mind and show respect for the cultural differences that they bring to the table.

    Consider spending some time learning about and gaining an understanding of their cultural viewpoints, since this can have a considerable impact on the preferences and expectations they have about care. Through the demonstration of cultural awareness, I can create trust and rapport with patients, which eventually results in improved communication and outcomes for patients.

    Arun Ghosh
    Arun GhoshDirector, Ghosh Medical Group