Today, health care workers are not just expected to be medical experts. In order to respond to patients sensibly and perform required tasks in a clinical environment, they also have to take on other roles such as that of communicators. EDU sees the importance of equipping students with social competencies in developing well-rounded health care professionals. Therefore, a communication skills curriculum is designed and integrated with EDU’s medical curriculum. One of the many elements in this communication skills curriculum that we place importance on is empathy.
Empathy is a complex concept, which is often understood as the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of someone else. In medicine, it is considered an important communication factor between healthcare workers and patients.
Let us use a scenario to illustrate this. Picture yourself experiencing unimaginable pain in your abdominal region. Not knowing what to do, you consult with your doctor, hoping for a medical advice to relieve your pain. As you are anxiously receiving the diagnosis from your doctor, he explains it, reciting scientific facts in a detached voice, not making eye contact.
How would you feel?
Depending on the emotions that the patient may be feeling—like nervousness, mistrust or fear—there are a variety of approaches for doctors to take with their patients.
“… huge impact on preventative medicine.”
Being able to recognise and reflect on patients’ emotions can have a huge impact on preventative medicine. Since the patient-doctor communication might touch on private topics, there is information that patients may feel guarded over disclosing. If the physicians do not display empathy in the conversation, patients can feel misunderstood or not heard. This impression pulls patients back from sharing their health information, which might cause delayed diagnosis and treatment.
“…prevent patients from feeling alienated.”
It can also prevent patients from feeling alienated. If doctors can acknowledge a patient’s feelings and their concerns, it is easier to find a solution of which the patient can accept. Likewise, when patients feel that they are being treated and listened to as an individual, they are more likely to listen to and follow their doctor’s medical advice.
A study on communication practice has also shown that higher patient satisfaction can lead to better health outcomes, further affirming the importance of empathy in healthcare for patient health.
“… empathy can lead to a better patient health outcome.”
Overall, empathy can lead to a better patient health outcome, as indicated by other studies, such as Mercer and Reynolds’ study on “Empathy and Quality Care” or Halpern’s “Clinical Empathy in Medical Care”, wherein he analyses what kind of empathy doctors are expected to provide for patients. Knowing what your patient is feeling, their discomfort, their social or cultural background, can make the diagnosis easier and more precise. Additionally, by showing empathy and understanding, patients can feel more at ease with their doctors and comfortable with disclosing information and history, which in turn can make the diagnosis even more precise.
“…physicians are said to experience less stress and cynicism and even burnout…”
Not only do patients benefit from empathy, but physicians also gain from it, as seen in the large-scale study on clinical empathy by Gleichgerrcht and Decety. Aside from receiving fewer patient complaints, physicians are said to experience less stress, cynicism and even burnout if they have demonstrated high levels of empathy. Apart from long hours, constant worry over patients’ health and the delivery of difficult news, these are the typical challenges in the daily life of a practitioner.
The EDU Communication Skills Curriculum is based on the CanMEDS framework to create well-rounded health care professionals and life-long learners. CanMEDS aims for improving patient care by enhancing health care training. Developed by the Royal College in the 1990s, its main purpose is to define the necessary competencies for all areas of medical practice and provide a comprehensive foundation for medical education and practice in Canada. It is now adopted by many medical institutions around the world. One of the six main roles illustrated in the framework is a communicator who is expected to be capable of performing key competencies such as establishing professional therapeutic relationships with patients and their families. It is where empathy is addressed as one of the key qualities.
EDU students mainly develop their collaborative/communication skills through virtual classes with small class sizes that cover a wide range of topics. After class, they also have access to individualised support from EDU mentors available on EDU digital learning platform. At the end of their studies, they will be able to practice with mastery of the patient-centred communication approach that encourages patient trust and is characterised by empathy, respect, and compassion.
Are you interested in studying medicine digitally? Register here for our next Virtual Open Day to meet EDU teaching faculty and current students and learn more about the bachelor’s programme.