The Doctors need to learn ‘Empathy’!

One day during my medical school days while I entered a public transport vehicle, I heard a person sitting next to me narrating his conversation with a doctor to his friend, “When I finally managed to get the tests done and showed the results to my doctor, he said ‘I don’t trust these results! Get them done from such or such lab’ I told him okay just write to me on a paper that these results are fake so that I may get this lab shut down! The doctor got startled and said that he couldn’t do this. I said ‘No, no, please do it that since I spent so much of my resources to get these test done whereas they (abusive words) have handed to me fake results!’” He paused upon reaching his emotional climax and looked around and I, who was listening to his story with full concentration, lowered my gaze to avoid eye contact with him.

The patient approaching a health care provider is in some sort of agony (be it physical, mental or both) and the first thing they are looking forward to is a kind reception!

Such stories are not uncommon to hear and they reflect the various health care related issues that are prevalent in our society. One such important issue is the lack of empathy among many health care providers. In the above-mentioned incident, if the doctor would have explained the ‘need’ for getting the tests done from a more reliable source (and sometimes this is indeed needed in our country, unfortunately), he could have shown some empathy to the patient, who apparently belonged to a lower-middle working class, through his words and gesture. Explaining the ‘preliminary diagnosis’, the importance of those tests to reach a ‘more conclusive diagnosis’ (or to rule out any dangerous disease), the treatment options that could be depending on that ‘test’ and hence the need for ‘more reliable’ test results could have likely ensured that the patient would have complied with the doctor instead of ending up in a ‘heated quarrel’ with him!

I have long wondered that how do so many quacks manage to flourish in our society with all their weird claims and instances of failure? One of the plausible reasons seems to be their empathy!

Apart from being the duty of the doctor to properly counsel the patient (which, too, is unfortunately much lacking in our society), it is also a manifestation of a basic level of empathy! The patient approaching a health care provider is in some sort of agony (be it physical, mental or both) and the first thing they are looking forward to is a kind reception. If the health care providers can’t express their ‘care’ for the patients then, ethically speaking, they don’t deserve to be in the healthcare. However, it is a sad to see that many health care workers (including doctors) show varying levels of ‘apathy’ towards their patients while some even resort to ‘rude’ and ‘abusive’ behavior.

I remember that during my internship at my hospital (also known as house job), there were occasions when I was called by the patients or their attendants and, being a junior intern, many times I would not have a proper answer in response to their queries and concerns. Still, I came up with a way to deal with such situations – all I would do was to reassure them by saying ‘I have listened to and understood your concerns, I will discuss these with my seniors and hopefully we will be able to address it soon’. These seemingly simple words calmed many furious attendants (and/or patients) whereas all I did was to show some level of empathy!

Even a placebo can work with this ‘positive hope’, an ‘effect’ that is recognized by Medicine and termed the Placebo effect!

I have long wondered that how do so many quacks manage to flourish in our society with all their weird claims and instances of failure? One of the plausible reasons seems to be their empathy. This instills bonding with their patients, enabling their patients to trust them. Psychologically, patients’ conviction plays a great role in their healing (even a placebo can work with this ‘positive hope’, an ‘effect’ that is recognized by Medicine and termed the Placebo effect) and this is how, apparently, many quacks continue to manage their patients! So why don’t we, the doctors, make use of these positive energies in the right and appropriate way?

Empathy is a skill that can be learned and, for our physicians, it’s definitely a skill worth learning. By understanding others as well as themselves, our new doctors will be prepared to make the types of real connections with their patients that are vital to the best possible health outcomes! – Lloyd Minor, MD

Lloyd Minor, MD, dean the Stanford School of Medicine, aptly remarked “All the medical training in the world won’t do our new doctors any good if it doesn’t teach them to understand that their patients are complex, multifaceted people” He continued on to write “Empathy is a skill that can be learned and, for our physicians, it’s definitely a skill worth learning. By understanding others as well as themselves, our new doctors will be prepared to make the types of real connections with their patients that are vital to the best possible health outcomes — connections that extend farther than the technical aspects of medicine, to a fundamentally human level.”

From an Islamic perspective, taking care of patients is a tremendously rewarding act. Even, merely visiting them (Ziyarat-ul-Mareez) has been highly encouraged!

From an Islamic perspective, taking care of patients is a tremendously rewarding act. Even, merely visiting them (Ziyarat-ul-Mareez) has been highly encouraged! Health care providers get the opportunity to reap these countless blessings and rewards just by doing their duty right, showing empathy to the patient and, as Mufti Taqi Usmani writes in “Easy Good Deeds,” making an intention (Niyyah) to please Allah!

We, the doctors, should also learn to develop empathy to become the healers our patients are looking for!

Yes, we would like our patients to be well-mannered, understanding and compliant, however we, the doctors, should also learn to develop empathy to become the healers our patients are looking for.

 

Originally published in Daily Times blog on  December 6th 2018 as ‘Doctors need to learn Empathy’ 

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