The Value of Empathy

By Wendy Kaliszewski

Empathy is defined as the direct identification with, understanding of, and vicarious experience of another person’s situation, feelings, and motives. Patients and their families want physicians who can not only properly treat and diagnose, but can also show empathy when difficult medical situations arise.

Besides patient satisfaction and better patient outcomes, empathy can be a valuable tool for fewer malpractice claims. If there were a physician error that resulted in a bad outcome, the patient and his or her family are less likely to sue a physician that treated them with compassion, respect, and empathy. A physician’s empathy helps a patient manage difficult and intense emotions, and makes it easier for a patient to begin the healing process. When a patient coveys his or her emotions — such as distress, sadness, powerlessness, or discouragement — empathy  enables a physician to maintain the professional distance required to remain objective.

The ultimate goal in any patient-physician relationship is a satisfied patient and a good outcome.Take the time to sit, listen, and engage with the patient. It could pay off in the long run.

How do you practice empathy with your patients? Please share in the comments section.