Empathy is an essential element in a good patient experience, yet many providers miss important cues. In the past few weeks I have shadowed a number of hospitalists to help them improve their patient interactions. During hours of observation, one common theme emerged. They missed important cues from patients and family members where they could have expressed empathy.
The good news is that when I pointed out the situation in our feedback sessions, every one of the doctors recognized the missed opportunity and were receptive to suggestions.
How to Show Empathy
In one situation a young woman was admitted the night before. She had cardiac symptoms. Her husband called 911. They were frightened by the ordeal. The physician did a great job explaining the physiology of what had transpired. He also clearly outlined the next steps in the treatment plan. What he missed was the cue that both the patient and the husband were really worried. He could have said to the patient and her husband, “That had to be really scary for you both.” That simple statement would have opened the door to the emotional impact of the medical situation.
In several other situations, the patients offered cues that they had children or elderly parents at home. The doctors never asked about their home life or if they had the support they needed. It was evident that they were so focused on the physical and medical situation that they were missing out on the emotional aspect.
I firmly believe that everyone can learn to pick up cues that will lead to more empathetic interactions. Shadow/coaching is a great way to help nurses and doctors improve communication and empathy.