These days there is a huge effort to change the effectiveness of healthcare delivery in America. Great minds are coming together to formulate plans that will not only decrease costs, but improve the quality of care and services to patients. One aspect that needs to be central to these discussions is how to deliver empathetic care to the populations being served. Merriam - Webster defines empathy as, "the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else's feelings". Why is empathy such a vital ingredient to the healthcare reform discussions?
Empathy connects clinicians and providers to the mission of meeting the needs of patients
For numerous years the concept of professional boundaries has been positively promoted in the training of clinicians and providers to help maintain objectivity. The challenge with this ideology is that in many cases it has removed the human element to care, and has created a robotic nature to care delivery. A good example is a patient and family receiving the news of a significant diagnosis or poor prognosis without any sense of emotion by the person delivering the news. If that person were forced to deliver the same information to their loved one, do you think the approach and delivery would be different? Empathy allows providers to connect better with their patients, and create a more trusting relationship.
Empathy improves compliance and prevention in patients
When people know that someone cares, they are much more apt to support requested actions. This applies not only to employees who work with an empathetic leader, but can also apply in promoting better communication and interactions between providers and their patients. When care is delivered that allows clinicians and providers to empathize with the medical challenges of their patients, it can result in creating a more receptive audience who remains compliant with their treatment and healthy lifestyle behaviors.
Empathy reduces risk for organizations
When empathetic care is practiced by the clinicians it has the ability to positively impact how recipients view their care. It can also promote better care by helping the clinician to identify with the challenges that patients endure, and deliver care that they themselves would want if the situation was reversed. That attitude can be helpful in following policies and protocols directly related to improving quality care by adhering to patient safety regulations. If an organization wants to improve quality, increase satisfaction, and generate morale then adding empathy to any care delivery discussion is crucial in achieving improved outcomes through risk avoidance.
There are a number of changes planned for Americans under the Affordable Care Act over the next few years that will hopefully improve access to care. As these plans and discussions move forward my hope is the topic of empathy will be a focus, so each of us can receive patient-centered care from a system that understands the challenges faced by the patients it serves.