When you see dozens or more patients in a single shift, it can be easy to forget that each patient is a person; a person who likely is feeling a lot of uncertainty and vulnerability.
Studies show that empathy is critical to patient satisfaction. But sometimes that's not covered in allied health training.
How can you learn to be more empathetic toward your patients? What is empathy, anyway?
Sympathy vs. empathy
Where sympathy deals with feeling your patient's pain, empathy is more to do with understanding your patient's pain. You might not know what your patient is going through if you've never been in their shoes, but you can strive to understand it. Through that understanding, you can give them the compassionate care they seek.
Here are 3 tips to help you care for patients with greater empathy that could lead to better patient relationships, as well as higher patient satisfaction.
As a frontline healthcare worker, listening to your patient is key. You might be the first one to talk to them during their visit, making your role even more important. Look them in the eye and truly listen to them. They likely feel vulnerable. If they know you are fully present and care about what they have to say, you can quickly form trust — which will benefit the entire patient-caregiver relationship.
2. Think about where your patient has been
In the healthcare world's race against the clock, it's easy to jump right into treatment. Pause. Take a few extra seconds to put yourself in your patient's shoes. Have they been waiting for two hours? Did they have to rearrange their work and personal schedule to get to you? Do they know what's wrong with them or are they feeling anxious about the unknown? Having this context can help you approach them with greater understanding.
3. Acknowledge their concerns
While you're thinking about diagnosis, collecting the right data and filling out tedious paperwork, your patient might feel like you're not understanding them. As you listen to them, also make sure to acknowledge their feelings. Saying something as simple as "I can understand how that must be frustrating" or "I'm sorry you're in so much pain" can go a long way toward making the patient feel more at ease.
As a healthcare professional, you might be a rockstar at the clinical side of patient care, but if you lack empathy, the patient's experience could be quite negative. Taking just a little extra time to listen to your patients, strive to understand where they're coming from, and acknowledge their concerns can go a long way toward helping your patient feel more comfortable — even in difficult circumstances.
You are a healthcare worker. Your focus might be on their physical health, but don't forget that underneath that physical shell is a person who could be going through a lot of emotional stress.