Empathy: Beyond a Connection

September 20, 2014
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Empathy-medicine

Empathy-medicine

Being a great leader means having a clear vision, mission or goal. It means being committed, and knowing how to listen and communicate, but it involves much more. It’s about having heart, empathy, and an uplifting spirit.

With empathy and heart we can help our patients feel good, valued and respected. Empathy allows us to engage and empower our patients to take charge of their health and well-being.

Empathy is without a doubt a connection; but in health care, it’s much more. It’s not only a clinical and emotional connection; it’s truly about letting people know that they matter and that clinicians care about their patients’ well-being.

The emotional connection allows clinicians to be mindful of what patients are experiencing and to help understand their lives. Everyone has a story: the new mom in the hospital who is being treated for cancer is unable to hold and to be with her newborn, the son and dad who gave and received a kidney missed attending the college graduation, the grandpa who missed his granddaughter’s wedding because he was undergoing heart surgery. There are lives behind the patients. A life interrupted and lives on hold. Understanding the how and why and what patients are feeling will allow for the doctor/patient and nurse/patient relationship to flourish, making better outcomes possible.

Underneath the diagnosis lies a patient with a life on hold on the outside. Patients’ lives stand still and they are bound by hospital walls, machines and devices. Every patient deserves empathetic doctors and nurses.

It’s important for clinicians to understand that patients are more than their “diagnosis.” Recognizing patients outside life exists, even just for a moment, is invaluable to them. All too often patients and their caregivers and family members are called “difficult” if they ask too many questions. Most of the time patients, caregivers, loved ones aren’t difficult; they are anxious and afraid and want to know that they are being heard. They want a connection.

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With empathy doctors and nurses can connect, engage and empower patients. Empathy allows us to understand what patients are experiencing. By acknowledging their emotional state and listening attentively, we can engage our patients and empower them to be proactive and in charge of their health care.

Empathy will foster trust, a partnership forms and the healing process begins.

So as leaders we can think about our patients lives on hold and empathetically help them get back to their loved ones and back to their lives.

Barbara participated in TEDMED and was part of the medical communication team.

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