Patients want to know their primary care physicians care about their well-being. Physicians want to be able to provide the highest quality care to their patients, especially with the current transition to value-based reimbursement. One method that has been proven effective in achieving all of these goals is empathetic communication.
What is empathetic communication? As Kasley Killam explains in Greater Good Magazine, “empathy in a clinical context is the physician’s ability to understand patients’ emotions, which can facilitate more accurate diagnoses and more caring treatment.” Empathy builds trust, which further strengthens the patient-physician relationship that is so important to quality healthcare. When a physician takes the time to listen to the patient’s concerns, it can make a difference in the level of patient outcomes.
An article in the Georgetown University Journal of Health Sciences notes interesting gender differences in physicians’ ability and practice when communicating empathetically. Published evidence shows that “female doctors are generally more empathic than male doctors when relating to their patients.” The journal article further explains that the “average duration of a female physician’s interview is ten minutes and forty-five seconds, compared to the seven minute and thirty-eight second average interview conducted by her male colleague.”
Communication is extremely important for the patient and the physician both during the visit and after the visit. When the physician has to spend excessive time on paperwork, there is less time for face-to-face conversation during the patient’s office visit. A tool such as EHR can provide increased patient data access so the physician can spend more time focused on listening to the patient, displaying empathetic communication skills, and less time searching through files for information.
After the visit, a patient may have questions or a physician may need to relay additional information to the patient. A communication tool that offers seamless, secure messaging for both patient and physician can also increase the empathy shown by the physician toward the patient’s concerns, thereby improving the quality of follow-up care.