Physician empathy is key to patient satisfaction

In recognition of how poor bedside manners could hurt both patient satisfaction scores and finances, more healthcare providers put a higher priority on physician empathy training, according to the Deseret News.

Empathy--or showing patients that healthcare professionals care about them--is increasingly on the minds of providers and hospital leaders, especially post-Affordable Care Act, with Medicare reimbursements partially hinging on patient satisfaction scores.

Physicians can convey empathy and concern in simple ways such as a touch on the shoulder, being a good listener, asking about a pet or hobby, or noticing a new haircut. But for busy doctors, it isn't always easy to spend more time with patients.

"Everyone has time pressures in the hospital. But a few little comments (about) patients' lives show them that you value them as people," Nathan Wanner, M.D., an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah and medical director of the University Hospital's palliative care service, told the newspaper.

Listening is an important skill, said Wanner, a patient experience physician leader at his organization, which is why he introduces himself to patients and then stays quiet so they have a chance to talk.

A report released earlier this year showed that healthcare organizations with a commitment to compassion enjoy both a better bottom line and increased patient and caregiver satisfaction.

The emphasis on the patient empathy has led many providers to train healthcare professionals in interpersonal skills. It's become an essential part of medical practice, according to Helen Reiss, M.D., director of the empathy and relational science program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and chief scientific officer of Empathetics, which provides training for healthcare providers. Research by Reiss and her co-workers shows that just three 60-minute training sessions can boost a physician's patients ratings. Prior studies indicate empathy is a non-negotiable part of the doctor-patient relationship.

To learn more:
- Read the article
- Check out the Empathetics web site