In any relationship, expressing empathy is key to building long-lasting, meaningful connections. The same principle applies to the relationships you build with your patients. When you step back and take a moment to put yourself in their shoes and truly take the time to focus and understand what they are experiencing, it can lead to increased patient satisfaction and better outcomes. This not only benefits your patients, but can also help you establish a solid reputation as a caring physician, which may be key to helping you grow your practice.
The Importance of Empathy in Healthcare
As a caring physician, you know that empathy is more than simply making a diagnosis based on your patient’s signs, symptoms and medical history. Research shows that effective communication between physicians and patients can be mutually beneficial.
It can help patients:
- Improve emotional health
- Decrease pain
- Increase adherence to medications
It can help physicians:
- Build patient trust
- Decrease malpractice cases
- Reduce mistakes
That’s why it’s important to explore the many ways you can use software tools in your practice to increase empathy and patient engagement rather than allowing technology to serve as a barrier.
How the Right Tools Can Help Increase Patient Connections
In this fast-paced, digital age, patients report that they are not feeling heard, and a majority walk out the doors of their physicians offices with lingering questions about their health. In fact, according to a study by the American Health Information Management Association Foundation, 76% of patients leave their physicians’ offices dissatisfied, and 22% of Americans revealed they don’t feel comfortable asking their physicians specific health questions. Urology, gastroenterology and gynecology practices may have their empathy skills tested more often due to the personal nature of the symptoms that they treat.
According to an article published by the American Medical Association, “When physicians show true empathy while listening to their patients in the exam room, patients and their families are often more satisfied and more open to adopting their advice—and it builds a much stronger patient-physician relationship.”
So, how do you show your patients that you really care about them and that you see them as more than just numbers on a chart? Here are 8 tips on how to demonstrate empathy for your patients, whether you are seeing them in-person at your office, or as part of a telehealth visit. A study published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research concluded that “Patient satisfaction with video visits is high and is not a barrier toward a paradigm shift away from traditional in-person clinic visits.” While you may be hesitant to use telehealth because you feel it takes away the human connection, the opposite may be true. Instead, it may help your patients feel connected to you and your practice.
How to Express Empathy in Healthcare: 8 Tips
- Listen first. While it may be your instinct to quickly jump in to solve your patients’ problems immediately as you enter the exam room, you may actually save time if you simply take a few moments to ask questions and carefully listen to their responses.
- Choose technology that helps your patient be your #1 focus. You know the feeling you get when you are trying to have an important conversation with someone and instead of looking at you directly, they are focused on what’s on their screen? That’s how your patient may feel if you’re using software that doesn’t allow you to maintain eye contact with them. Consider using an EHR with a touchscreen interface that you can simply tap and touch so you can keep the focus on your patients during the entire visit
- Keep the conversation going—even after the visit ends. Text messaging can simplify ongoing conversations with your patients and can be an easy way to reinforce follow-up instructions. It can also help build connections and increase patient engagement
- Stay present. Remember to offer non-verbal cues such as nodding your head to show you’re really listening. Providing simple feedback like “ok” without interrupting allows your patients to fully finish expressing their feelings and complete their thoughts and shows you are engaged and truly care
- Dig deep. Just like your clinical diagnoses, sometimes you have to peel back the layers to get to a patient’s true feelings. For example, your patient may mention something in passing, and wait for your response or reaction before they continue. That’s why it’s so important to ask questions and really tune in when you’re with your patients, and connect with them using a system that allows you to tap as you talk.
- Recognize that your patients lead busy lives, too. Everyone appreciates convenience, regardless of whether you’re the physician or the patient. Understanding that your patients’ time is valuable is another way of demonstrating empathy. Consider using patient engagement tools that allow for self-scheduling, automated appointment reminders, mobile payment options, telehealth and more. One study revealed that more than 70% of consumers prefer to schedule appointments online. If you aren’t currently offering tools that take your patients’ communication preferences into consideration, chances are that other practices in your area probably are.
- Ask for feedback. One of the best ways to discover whether or not your patients perceive you and your practice team as empathetic is to ask for their feedback through patient satisfaction surveys sent via text and email. Showing your patients you care about their experiences can transform satisfied patients into advocates and allows less satisfied patients an opportunity to offer private, constructive feedback.
- Practice your skills. Each of your patients is unique, and not every physician demonstrates empathy in the exact same way. If your goal is to increase empathy with your patients, try different strategies to find what works best and seems most natural for you. Training yourself to recognize emotional and body-language cues can have a positive payoff for your patients and for your practice.
Technology doesn’t have to be a barrier to building strong connections with your patients. Fortunately, there are several software tools available that provide opportunities for increasing empathy in your practice.
This article was originally published on the Modernizing Medicine blog and is republished here with permission.