Human Exceptionalism

Lack of Physician Empathy: Another Cause of Popular Distrust in Medicine

In a recent previous post, we discussed the reasons why many patients no longer trust the medical system. A disturbing study that found too little empathy from doctors toward their cancer patients could also be a contributing cause. From the story:

U.S. researchers who assessed interactions between a small group of people with lung cancer and their doctors found physicians provided little emotional support even when patients seemed to be searching for it.

When patients made comments on topics like the personal impact of cancer, their diagnosis and treatment and struggles with the health care system, doctors responded with words of empathy only 10 percent of the time, the researchers said.

This was a small study — appointments between doctors and 10 patients at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Houston were audio taped and analyzed for whether the physicians provided empathy for the plight of these people with a deadly illness.

But Dr. Diane Morse of the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York said the findings reinforce other research showing doctors fall short in the simple act of acknowledging the emotional difficulties of their patients’ predicament.

In their defense, doctors are under tremendous financial pressure from managed care economics to push the patients through their offices assembly line style. And as the story discussed, the study was small. But clearly, the milk of human kindness should be a crucial part of medicine and despite the pressures they are under, doctors will have to do a better job.

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