Teach physician empathy for better patient satisfaction

With strong links between physician empathy and boosted patient satisfaction, hospitals are training their physicians to more empathetic.

For example, Partners HealthCare (a Massachusetts General member that spearheaded a recent major study in the area) implemented empathy training, including group retreats for interns and house staff and individualized and group training for physicians. Harvard Medical School also requires a third-year course in which students reflect on the process of becoming a physician, according to a Hospitals & Health Networks Daily column.  

Although it was always thought that people are either born with emotional intelligence or not, recent research points out that you can teach empathy. According to a study published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine last month, resident physicians significantly improved their interactions with patients after receiving training on recognizing facial expressions and other non-verbal emotional cues, emotional self-awareness, strategies for dealing with challenging patients or delivering bad clinical news, as well as techniques for recognizing and regulating personal stress.

Best of all, the study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital noted that it doesn't take physicians more time to show empathy. Despite fears that physicians would have to double their appointment time to show that they cared, the study revealed that wasn't necessarily the case, according to Healthcare Informatics.

"Demonstrating empathy does not have to take more time," study leader Helen Riess said in the H&HN Daily article.

Incentives and emotional intelligence training can make physicians more empathetic, leading to improved patient satisfaction and better health outcomes, noted Ruth Malloy, managing director and global head of leadership and talent at Hay Group in Boston, and Jim Otto, senior principal in Hay Group's U.S. health care practice in Atlanta, in the column.

"With emotional intelligence and empathy training, physicians can develop more empathetic relationships with their patients, improve their satisfaction scores and produce a cascade of positive outcomes throughout a health care system. Strong satisfaction scores will help hospitals perform well on the HCAHPS survey and earn more in reimbursements while winning a word-of-mouth reputation for quality care within their communities."

For more information:
- read the H&HN Daily column
- see the Healthcare Informatics article

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