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Entries in Canadian Medical Association Journal (1)

Monday
Jan242011

Is Doctor Empathy the Best Rx?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The ability to empathize with a patient not only makes doctors more likable but improves the quality of care they provide, according to a report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. And as with knowing what test to run or what treatment to prescribe, empathy is a skill doctors have to learn, some doctors say.

"Currently, there is insufficient emphasis and time apportioned to teaching the empathic response in medical school, postgraduate training and continuing medical education," wrote Dr. Robert Buckman of the University of Toronto and his colleagues.

Medical training has historically emphasized understanding diseases rather than patients. But some medical schools in the United States are changing their game to produce more empathetic doctors.

"I think all of us as doctors should understand that our main role is to not just help people, but to really understand them and to have every encounter with a patient be something they leave feeling better," said Dr. Steven Abramson, senior vice president and vice dean for education, faculty and academic affairs at New York University's Langone Medical Center.

"In the sufferer, let me see only the human being," said Abramson, quoting the prayer of Maimonides, a pledge similar to the Hippocratic oath.

"A patient is far less likely to adhere to a treatment plan if they don't have trust in their doctor," said Matthew Mercuri, a first-year medical student at Langone. "If they don't trust their doctor, they won't trust the treatment."

But learning to balance empathy with doing what needs to be done is harder than it looks.

NYU's Abramson said, "It's very nice to have a doctor that you love and who puts an arm around you, but not if that doctor makes bad medical decisions.

"Compassion is important but compassion without competence is not a virtue."

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