Monday, April 21, 2014
Empathy plays an important role in all of healthcare communication, but it's especially heightened when clinicians are working with patients with serious illness and their families.
Journal of Palliative Medicine published an article by Vital Talk's Tony Back and Bob Arnold recently about the role empathy can play in the delineation of goals of care for seriously ill patients. Empathy without any specific action is valuable to the suffering person. Merely being understood often times has some ameliorative impact on the suffering person and fosters a therapeutic relationship, even when some problems cannot be solved.
- See affect as a "spotlight"- be curious about the reasons for the emotion. Don't assume sadness is exclusively about dying. The first step is merely recognizing the spotlight, even if it's not patently obvious where it's shining.
- Use the affect to connect with the patient- bring it out in the open to demonstrate for the patient that you are noticing it. They recommend doing this before moving on to figuring out what is being spotlighted.
- Read between the lines to infer what is important- listen for cues that suggest a deeper concern or narrative that isn't being openly talked about. The evidence here will be incomplete, and the clinician needs to hypothesize and test the hypotheses with the patient.
- Develop action plan jointly with patient to address the need. The patient needs to be committed to the plan, and when a patient is committed to action that helps them address the goal, the process is defined as a success.
|Image: FracFX "In the Spotlight"|
Back AL, & Arnold RM (2014). "Yes it's sad, but what should I do?" Moving from empathy to action in discussing goals of care. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 17 (2), 141-4 PMID: 24359216