Share Your Insightful Thoughts, Readers Comments on Empathy Post at KevinMD

By Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA

In my recent post published on KevinMD, “Deeply connect and engage your patients with empathy,” I would like to thank the readers for their insightful comments.

The first comment is from Winslow Murdoch, a primary care physician who wholeheartedly believes that empathy is essential; however due to the real world frustrations with insurers etc., he writes, he left his practice.  Now he practices patient centered medical home concierge medicine “where I can be a real health professional,” he adds.

The second comment is from Jackie Fox who says that she would like to see the word “empathy” gain more attention than the word “empowered.”  “Medicine is so much more than technical skill. Doctors can help heal the psychic hurt, even when they can’t heal the body,” she writes.

Lastly, Alan writes that he is a non-medical professional, and while states that he would like to endorse the high-minded sentiments outlined in this article, he “respectfully suggest that they do not work in practice.  Being empathic all the time is simply not an attainable goal for most of us. You cannot give what you do not have,” he writes.

Your turn

Below, please find the full comments and, please share your insightful thoughts with us.  We would love to hear from you.  Thank you for your time.

Comments published on KevinMD

1.  Winslow Murdoch November 4, 2010 at 9:28 am

Empathy requires that the healthcare professional is centered- has them self in at least a temporary calm focused rested and attentive state.

I am a primary care doctor, and I agree wholeheartedly that when I enter a patient encounter in this state, much more meaning comes to my life’s work. Having wholeheartedly recognized this through training and experience, the real world environment of interruptions frustrations inefficiencies of working with insurers government and patient panels and schedules that rarely provide the time or individual schedule to give the known anxious difficult patient the time they need, not to mention being measured by how many body parts examined through history and physical exam not on outcomes, this self awareness seems a mirage. The times during the day that I am at this in the moment state were becoming very few and far between.

More recently, I was also being measured by the insurers and employer with a flotilla of quality metrics that more measure process- did your patient with type 2 diabetes, seven other concomitant chronic disease states, and “oh by the way doc, I feel severely depressed and have been thinking about taking all my pills and ending it all” have their psa LDL hgba1c eye exam foot exam BP goal weight management lifestyle counseling smoking cessation counseling etc done on time? If not, “bad doctor!”

This is why I had to leave.

No Alice in wonderland more mad max in wasteland.  Now doing patient centered medical home concierge type practice where I can be a real health professional.  The transition for me was personally very anxiety producing and stressful. I financially lost everything personally in the transition but am professionally able to function in a centered state most of the time now.

This is why I left.

2.  Jackie Fox November 10, 2010 at 9:49 am

Thank you for the beautiful post. I’d like to see this “e” word (empathy) get as much attention as the one that’s turned into a buzzword (empowered). Medicine is so much more than technical skill. Doctors can help heal the psychic hurt, even when they can’t heal the body.

I had four doctors, (all men, incidentally), guide me through the process of diagnosis, mastectomy and reconstruction for DCIS. Each one could teach a master class in compassion. When he made the treatment recommendation I was hoping so hard not to hear, my oncologist simply said, “It’s hard for a woman to lose a breast” and handed me a necessary box of Kleenex. And when I went for our usual goodbye handshake, he hugged me instead.

And my surgeon, who had been comforting and funny through two attempts at breast conserving surgery, simply came over and sat on the bed and put his arm around me in pre-op for the “big M.” I can’t tell you how powerful that gesture was. I could tell at least a dozen more stories about them and my other doctors, and their nurses. Because of their compassion, I look back on this experience as largely positive.

Jackie Fox–Author, From Zero to Mastectomy: What I Learned And You Need to Know About Stage 0 Breast Cancer

3.  Alan November 11, 2010 at 10:38 am

As a non-medical professional, I would like to endorse the high-minded sentiments outlined in this article, but respectfully suggest that they do not work in practice. Being empathic all the time is simply not an attainable goal for most of us. You cannot give what you do not have. And like any cross section of the population, some medical professionals are going to be naturally endowed with greater capacity for empathy than others. Trying to engage deeply may well be a recipe for burnout, but is it even a worthy goal? I do not want my medical professionals to be burned out by their patients’ often intractable problems. I would prefer physicians and staff rather to maintain a professional distance and ability to show an appropriate amount of SYMPATHY which is fundamentally different in character from EMPATHY. The former concept encompasses the notion of professional distance, which is necessary for long-term effectiveness. Long-term effectiveness is only achievable by avoiding the pitfalls of burnout. And by the way, people are not uniformly rational by nature. So good luck trying to get them, both professionals and patients, to be compliant by means of deep engagement and moral suasion. There simply have to be boundaries and realistic limits set on what can and cannot be expected.

Thank you to the readers of KevinMD for their comments.  Original post, “Deeply connect and engage your patients with empathy” is  published on KevinMD.

Thank you to the Healthin30 readers for retweetingRules of Patient Engagement: How to Deeply Connect with Empathy” on Twitter.

[Comments contain original content.]

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    Barbara, what a beautiful post. Any healthcare professional who cannot muster up empathy for their patient should not be in practice. (unless of course, they are a surgeon :)) As a patient I have empathy for my physicians and nurses and the conditions under which they often must practice, too many appointments in a day, new technology to master, the pressure to know everything. In this current healthcare “system” unless patients and physicians have empathy for each other and work together we’re not going to make it.

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