Research presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) linked patient-perceived physician empathy with improved outcomes and medical care satisfaction. According to the study, sixty-five percent of patient satisfaction was attributed to physician empathy. Many other studies have also recognized the impact empathy has on improving health outcomes and its significance in patient care.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is defined as, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It is the capacity to put one’s self in another’s shoes and feel what that person is going through and share their emotions and feelings. It is the recognition and validation of a patient’s fear, anxiety, pain, and worry. It is the ability to understand patients’ feelings and facilitate a more accurate diagnoses and more caring treatment.
Both empathy and compassion in healthcare play vital roles in the patient experience and are key components of the physician-patient relationship. When a patient arrives they are typically in need with some type of medical condition. Whether it is a severe illness or injury, they are experiencing many emotions such as anxiety, fear, and apprehension. Patients want to know they are receiving the very best care, and that is conveyed when their care team is empathetic and compassionate.
Why is Empathy Important?
Empathy extends far beyond a patient’s medical history, signs, and symptoms. It is more than a clinical diagnosis and treatment. Empathy encompasses a connection and an understanding that includes the mind, body, and soul. It is a highly effective and powerful communication tool that can help build patient trust, calm anxiety, and improve health outcomes. Research has shown empathy and compassion to be associated with better adherence to medications, decreased malpractice cases, fewer mistakes, and increased patient satisfaction.
President and CEO of Cleveland Clinic, Delos “Toby” Cosgrove, MD, shared a video that exemplifies the power of empathy in healthcare. The video has become a viral sensation, with more than 3 million views on YouTube. It can be viewed below: