HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Monday, March 14, 2005

Teaching Empathy

The AmNews reports on a recent large bequest to the Medical College of Ohio to teach of empathy and other aspects of kindly bedside manners to medical school students.  The AmNews reports,

The Ruth Hillebrand Clinical Skills Center, dedicated by the Toledo school this month, was borne of the estate of a New York psychologist who felt she had bad experiences with rude doctors. As the school told it, Hillebrand's doctor in New York called her late one night and told her she had mesothelioma. He said there was no treatment and no cure. Then he hung up.

The Ohio medical college is hardly the only school teaching physicians how to interact personally with patients. And there are programs in place for practicing physicians to brush up on their personal skills as well. This isn't because patients are saying, en masse, that their doctors are rude. Rather, they say they value physicians who have good bedside manners, which encompasses listening to and answering their questions and showing empathy and compassion when providing care.

. . . . .

A 2004 Harris Interactive poll of 2,267 U.S. adults found that respondents cared more that doctors listened to their concerns and questions than they did about doctors being up-to-date on the latest medical research and treatment. A review of 25 surveys on doctor-patient relationships in the March 10, 2001, The Lancet said doctors with good bedside manners had a better impact on patients than physicians who were less personal.

The article provides a good overview of what type of programs a variety of schools ar offering as well as information on what practicioners are doing in response to patient concerns in this area.  It sounds like a good idea to me.  I am sure that we have all had some negative experiences with doctors in our lifetime.  Helping prevent those experiences is not only better for patients, who are more likely to trust a doctor who appears to understand their condition, but also may prevent angry patients from filing lawsuits not to mention helping doctors with the new performance/patient satisfaction ratings that some health plans have put into place.

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