Happy Tuesday, everyone!
I admittedly have not been as diligent about writing a weekly blog post as I intended to be as, like many people, I find that when I HAVE to do something, it is not done with as much joy and passion as when I spontaneously decide to write. That being said, I found a study the other day that really lit me up and I wanted to share it with you all.
The study was done in an inpatient hospital setting by asking patients to take a survey about the care they received while hospitalized. For those unfamiliar, there are doctors who only work in hospital to admit, treat and eventually discharge patients. They are called "hospitalists" and many of my friends from residency are such physicians. They work grueling hours to ensure their patient care is tip-top and to get patients home safely and most efficiently.
Nowadays, when someone is discharged from a hospital, these doctors and the hospital itself are graded by the patient in what's called the Press Ganey score. Unfortunately, and somewhat unfairly (in my opinion), the Press Ganey score reflects how "patient-centered" the hospital seems to the patient and is not as much about the actual care received. Patients can complain about any and all issues with hospital staff, decor and even the FOOD, which is beyond control of the doctors and nurses! And some hospitals' compensation from Medicare may depend on these scores (this is very unfair to me as state, county and city hospitals are underfunded and need the money, yet are at risk of not receiving it due to poor infrastructure, inability to pay high salaries to retain staff, etc.). Needless to say, doctors and hospital staff, for the most part, do their best to try to impress their patients and treat them effectively and well. But, we are not perfect, and Press Ganey scores can reflect that.
So how does this study play a role in medicine? The study interviewed and surveyed patients about the empathy hospitalists showed them regarding what they encountered during their hospitalization. It then correlated the empathy scores with patients' anxiety scores (using a separate validated anxiety measure) and the patients' ratings of their doctors.
What did it find? It found that more empathic encounters (those doctors who could communicate their ability to relate to the patients' negative emotions) resulted in a significant decrease in patients' anxiety scores while hospitalized AND higher hospitalist ratings. Non-empathic physician encounters resulted in higher anxiety scores on the surveys partaken.
While this result does not in-and-of-itself surprise me, it does shed light on what is needed to allay patient fears while hospitalized and can possibly enable physicians to get higher scores on the important Press Ganey scores. Empathy can be learned, so It seems to be a win-win for everyone!
Now, what does being empathic mean and how can it reduce patients' anxiety? The word empathy comes from the greek root words em and pathos, which mean "in" and "feeling", respectively. Empathy is the idea of relating to or understanding someone else's feelings and being able to feel what they feel.
How does this simple gesture change another person's experience? Well, think about how you feel when others "get you". You feel heard, understood, appreciated even. Now turn it around and think about a difficult situation you have encountered when someone else was suffering and came to you for advice. Did you stop
What you were doing, sit down, listen to their worries/fears, and just hold space for them? Or did you dismiss their feelings and continue doing what you were already doing?
The key to helping someone through any suffering experience is not to dismiss their feelings nor is it necessarily to try to fix the situation. It is to sit down, offer a listening ear and truly try to understand what that person is going through. Only then can they feel heard, understood and appreciated. And only then, solutions can arise. You may instantaneously decrease someone else's suffering and the world can be a brighter place for you and them, whether in the hospital, at home or at work.
I know this may all seem very simple to many people, as empathy does come very naturally to some. However, in extremely busy, high pressure systems, such as medicine, learning empathy can go a long way. I hope you can feel me on this and somewhat agree! (it's ok if you don't)
Here's a link to the article synopsis which I credit the newsletter from Healio for making me aware of. Healio is a great resource I enjoy for current medical research. Enjoy and have a fantastic rest of the week!
Weiss R, et al. Hospitalist Empathy Is Associated with Decreased Patient Anxiety and Higher Ratings of Communication in Admission Encounters. Presented at: Society for Hospital Medicine Annual Meeting; March 6-9, 2016; San Diego.
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Dr. Maltz earned a Medical Degree and Master in Public Health from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, TX. She completed a combined Internal and Preventive Medicine Residency at UTMB in June, 2011. She then completed a 2-year Integrative Medicine Fellowship at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, CT, during which she simultaneously underwent an intensive 1000-hour curriculum created by The University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Program founded by Dr. Andrew Weil.