Promoting Physician Empathy to Generate Better Health Outcomes and Improve Patient Engagement
Posted on Wednesday, October 25, 2017
When your doctors learn to consistently practice physician empathy, your physicians, patients, and facility will benefit from its far-reaching effects. These include its power to reduce physician burnout, improve patient engagement, and produce better health outcomes.
Physician empathy benefits both doctors and patients.
The Benefits of Physician Empathy for Physicians: Reduce Physician Burnout
When physicians learn to practice empathy for patients, it not only benefits their patients but also the physicians themselves. A physician’s profession can be demanding and stressful, but physicians who are more compassionate toward their patients are more compassionate toward themselves as well, helping them to practice more self-care and successfully navigate through the challenging times they may face during their careers.
Unfortunately, over half of U.S. physicians report experiencing at least one symptom of professional burnout, according to a study published by the Mayo Clinic. They may feel drained emotionally, grow cynical toward their patients, and view their work as meaningless.
In order to prevent and reduce physician burnout, more medical schools are offering courses and training in empathy and compassion. These programs are designed to nurture medical students’ passion for helping others, a big motivator for becoming a doctor in the first place, and may counteract the reduction in empathy that begins in school or during residency due to the pressures and demands of schooling and the expectation for exercising objectivity in treating patients.
The Benefits of Physician Empathy for Patients: Better Health Outcomes
While a certain degree of objectivity is important in healthcare, when physicians are too detached the physician-patient relationship suffers. Physician empathy, on the other hand, builds trust.
Many studies demonstrate that physician empathy leads to better health outcomes for patients, according to both patients’ perceptions and measured test results of their health conditions. Physician empathy inspires better communication and trust and increases patient compliance. Empathic physicians improve patient engagement. Plus, physicians who do not suffer from burnout commit fewer medical errors than their burned out peers, improving patient safety.
All of these benefits of physician empathy also increase patient satisfaction.
What Can You Do?
Fortunately, empathy is a learned skill. In order to prevent and reduce physician burnout, improve patient engagement, and generate better health outcomes for your patients, encourage or incentivize your physicians to complete periodic empathy training or make your own programs available to them.
When physicians learn to practice empathy toward both their patients and themselves, they protect themselves from becoming emotionally depleted and therefore have more to give to their patients. Likewise, when patients feel understood and cared for on a human level, they let their physicians know, thanking them and expressing their satisfaction, and providing physicians with the rewarding moments that make their work worthwhile.
Promoting physician empathy is truly a mutually beneficial way to create better health outcomes and improve patient engagement, while also reducing physician burnout.