“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
 Leo Buscaglia
 

Historically, people strongly believed in the philosophy that even the deepest wound can be cured by a GOOD WORD. Recently, also psychological studies have found the same.  Empathy can cure probably just as much as medical therapies. Compassion, care and sensitivity towards patients’ situation can help on improving these latter’s health and psychological condition.

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Figure 1. Heart-warming moment a surgeon calmed a scared two-year-old girl ahead of her heart operation

Each of us may have experienced to feel uncomfortable during medical visits, to avoid or even reject them entirely. Some of us experience unpleasant feelings whenever we enter in a hospital or whenever we meet a doctor while white coats often tend to be associated with discomfort feelings, especially by children. Imagine how this situation would change, if doctors would show us EMPATHY- this force for health improvement which should no longer be neglected.

According to a recent study developed by Kerasidou and Horn (2016), doctors tend to suppress and ignore their feelings towards their patients’ situation because the expression of emotions in medical practice is perceived as unprofessional. Among doctors, it is well known the theory of “detached concern” according to which doctors should not “feel” for the situation of their patients. In daily bases, doctors are faced with the most emotionally distressing situations like illness, pain, suffer or even death and such situations would normally harm the psychological wellbeing of a doctor.  However, recent studies, have found that doctors who develop empathy towards their patients, achieve a number of valuable outcomes for their patients, as well as for themselves.

Deceti and Gleichgerrcht (2013), in one of their studies, researched how empathy towards patients would affect the doctors’ situation.  In total, 7500 doctors participated in the study and the findings suggested that those who reported to show empathy are more likely to also report feelings of satisfaction for their jobs. Contrary, doctors who tried to develop “detached concern” or tried “not to feel” for their patients’ situation were more likely to feel burnout. Jodi Halpern (2001), a professor of bioethics and medical humanities at the University of California, in her book “From Detached Concern to Empathy: Humanizing Medical Practice” emphasis that trying to be emotionally detached can prevent doctors from understanding the needs and concerns of their patients. According to her ‘not to feel’ is simply to be more likely to act in ways that impair judgment and listening”. 

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                                                Figure 2. Empathy can help patients improve

On the other hand, other studies confirmed the hypothesis that doctors’ empathy can help patients improve. A doctor who shows empathy toward the patient's condition and sensitivity to his needs can help the patient  feel more satisfied with medical service  (Hojat et al.2011).

Last years, empathic skills of doctors, became an important subject of the Medical Universities in the world. Doctors all around the world are recommended to develop their empathic skills, to become compassionate, diligent and sensitive to the patient's condition. “Empathetic” is one of the latest empathy training programs developed in the Harvard Medical School by Riess et al (2012). The program tries to prepare doctors, to better respond to patient feelings and also to manage their own ones. Positive result has been observed, suggesting that this kind of programs can serve as a significant future subject in medical Universities. Therefore, if doctors around the world would learn to be more empathic probably, we would need less medicaments.

COPYRIGHT: This article is property of We Speak Science, a non profit institution co-fonded by Dr. Detina Zalli (Harvard University) and Dr. Argita Zalli (Imperial College London). The article is written by Detina Zalli and Ilirjana Geci (University of Prishtina"Hasan Prishtina").

References:

1. Gleichgerrcht E, Decety J (2013) The costs of empathy among health professionals. In: Decety J, editor. Empathy: from Bench to Bedside. Cambridge: MIT Press. 245–2611.
2. Helpern, J., (2001). From Detached Concern to Empathy: Humanizing Medical Practice
3. Hojat, M., Louis, D. Z., Markham, F. W., Wender, R., Rabinoqitz, C., & Gonnella, J. S. (2011). Physicians’ empathy and clinical outcomes for diabetic patients. Academic Medicine, 86, 359–364
4. Kerasidou, A. & Horn., R., (2016). Making space for empathy: supporting doctors in the emotional labour of clinical care.
5. Riess, H., Kelley, J., Bailey., R., Dunn., E. & Phillips, M., (2012). Empathy Training for Resident Physicians: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Neuroscience-Informed Curriculum.