Patients still need empathy from doctors, nurses

In today’s healthcare environment, doctors and nurses need to make sure empathy for their patients isn’t lost in the name of efficiency and technology.

Every day, doctors, nurses and other health professionals find themselves in situations where patients need empathy and compassion, writes Sue Dean, a lecturer at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, as part of a series on The Conversation that examined the topic of empathy.

“With more demand on doctors and nurses and a push for quicker consultations, clinical empathy is being dwarfed by the need for efficiency. But this doesn’t mean patients have stopped wanting to be treated in a caring and empathetic manner,” says Dean, who is a social worker and registered nurse.

In fact, according to one 2016 study, the perception that their physicians were empathetic was the biggest factor in patients' satisfaction.

Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that the need is often not being met, says Dean. Technology has contributed to that lack of empathy by getting in the way of healthcare professionals' personal interaction with patients. For instance, nurses may no longer hold a patient’s hand or arm to take a pulse, but use a probe attached to their finger.

For healthcare professionals, there needs to be an emphasis on good communication during training and throughout clinical practice, Dean says.

The emphasis on the need for patient-centered care and empathy has led many providers to train healthcare professionals in interpersonal skills. Doctors can improve communication with patients with simple steps, such as smiling when they greet patients and maintaining eye contact.