As they begin their practice, most doctors take a pledge to do no harm. That often means doing whatever is necessary to keep a patient as healthy, happy and functioning as possible. Yet as he explained in a recent op-ed piece for The New York Times, Dr. Robert Klitzman believes his fellow physicians aren't doing enough to treat the entire patient. Though his argument centered predominantly on spiritual issues, he raised valid questions about the importance of nurturing a patient's emotions as to improve his or her overall health care regimen. Doing so can actually have profound results. A recent study from Johns Hopkins University found that more obese patients lost weight if they felt that they had their physicians' full support.
So what can you as a healer do in order to treat more than just the disease, but the person inside? Here are just a few areas of focus that can give patients the added support they need for better health:
Clinical empathy, as it's called, involves the ability to see life from a patient's perspective. This allows the doctor to understand the patient's situation and then express a willingness to help. As The Atlantic explained, this ability was previously referred to as "good bedside manner," and for years was favored less than a physician's technical abilities. Yet in recent years, clinical empathy has made a comeback in medical curriculum. The reason? It helps with overall patient recovery. A 2004 study published in the Journal of Health Services Research & Policy found that the patients of empathetic doctors reported feeling far more satisfied overall. By extension, happier patients are regularly more healthy, have extra energy and can even experience less pain. However, physicians must also find a balance in their work. Successful doctors can be open and emotional yet still retain their ability to analyze a situation logically.
2. Improved communication
Despite all their years of training, physicians are generally not the most effective communicators. According to a report from The New York Times, the average doctor interrupts a patient just 18 seconds into the explanation of their symptoms. If this information is so vital, then why don't more doctors take the time to listen? As the same NY Times piece explained, it all has to do with how most physicians are trained. Generally, doctors are taught to take whatever basic information they need to form a diagnosis and then ignore the rest. Another factor is general fatigue and burnout. According to a 2009 study published in the the journal Academic Medicine, the inherent stress of their profession can limit a physician's communicative skills, especially in regards to delivering bad news.
Some of their more effective communication methods include:
- Maintain eye contact: This can help improve your ability to listen and strengthen emotional connections with patients.
- Listen more than you speak: Use open-ended questions that allow patients to share their feelings. This allows you to create care plans that address patients' emotions, which are more likely to be followed.
- Work with other doctors: Many doctors like to work alone with a patient. However, consulting with colleagues has several benefits. Not only does it allow you to practice effective communication skills, but it can help cut down on the possibility of medical errors.
Read through any magazine featuring some form of relationship advice, and most will note that trust is the primary ingredient to any successful coupling. Yet, as she writes in Physician's Weekly, Dr. Linda Girgis believes that more patients are losing trust in their doctors. There is a number of reasons for this slow, gradual loss, including more reliance on third parties to make health care decisions and HMO cuts that affect some physicians offices' financial situations. One way to build trust is to match a patient's emotional state. According to a study published in the journal Emotion, patients were more likely to follow a doctor's advice if they had the same emotional outlook. Part of that is developing your sense of empathy. However, it also involves understanding a patient's "affective ideals," which are factors that influence his or her response to a physician. More doctors need to take the time to discuss these ideals as to better understand the patient's ever-changing moods.