September 24, 2008

Doctors lack Empathy: Study

Empathy- identifying with and understanding another person’s situation and feelings- is an important factor in a patient-doctor relationship. But a latest study published in the September 22 issue of ‘Archives of Internal Medicine’ says that doctors don’t empathize with the plight of their cancer patients.

Doctors are very able in addressing issues such as medication, missed appointments and pain etc. but when it comes to responding to the ‘existential’ concerns, such as questions regarding life and death of the patient, the doctors failed.

Study author Dr. Diane Morse, an assistant professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in New York, said, “physicians only responded to 10 percent of empathic opportunities and, when patients raised existential concerns, physicians tended to shift more to biomedical responses.”

Morse added, “Physicians had trouble addressing the bulk of concerns, which were about patient fears, concerns about death or dying, or worsening conditions.”

The relationship between a patient and his physician is much more than mere medical treatment, pointed out Dr. Arthur Frankel, a professor of medicine at the Texas A & M Health Science Center College of Medicine.

He said that if in cancer care, the doctor is not able to form a close bond with the patient, then there is a big question on what exactly he’s doing.

“We can hopefully, at times, make suggestions or do things with patients that may buy some time and, in some cases, long-term remissions. But, by and large, the major job of an oncologist is to bond with the patient and the patient’s family and help them with a crisis,” added Frankel, who’s also director of the Cancer Center, Cancer Research Institute and Division of Haematology/Oncology at Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas.

It has been found that if physicians, residents and medical students provide more empathy to the patients, they themselves experience more satisfaction and less burnout.

In order to conduct the present research study, Morse and her colleagues took into consideration 20 audio-recorded and transcribed interactions between male patients with lung cancer and their thoracic surgeons or oncologists.

The researchers noticed 384 “empathic opportunities”, but found that physicians replied empathically to only 39 of them. An average of less than two empathic responses from the doctor was recorded for each encounter. Empathic opportunities included patients’ statements such as “This is kind of overwhelming” and “I’m fighting it”.

Even if the doctors did empathize, half the time it was in the last third of the encounter, even though patients kept raising concerns throughout the interaction.

Morse said, “The bulk of patients’ concerns are existential and physicians don’t necessarily have to do something to fix it. Just acknowledging it, in and of itself, can be very helpful and it doesn’t take a lot of time.”

No comments:



Related Posts with Thumbnails