We practice in a profession where showing compassion is crucial. In our daily lives, in small and simple moments, we are presented with countless chances to exchange emotions with more intention, and yet we do not always take these chances for what they are. They are an opportunity to improve communication and the human experience.
As modern medicine evolves in the areas of technology, shared decision making, increased diversity, increased malpractice, increased discontent, increased pressure and speed, and decreased simplicity, even just a little more TLC could go a very long way—for patients and providers. Why, then, do we still need to be reminded of the importance of having and communicating empathy?
Evidence supports that both recognizing and showing recognition of patients’ emotional needs can have an effect. A 2012 study found a significant increase in patient-rated physician empathy in those who went through three hours of training, suggesting that we can learn to expand our empathic skills and that this can indeed make a difference to patients.1
A Cochrane systematic review also supported that training can increase understanding and application of patient-centered skills, although the authors say the jury is still out as to whether applying these skills makes a difference to measurable patient outcomes.2
I was recently and very unexpectedly presented with yet another one of those countless chances for better emotional communication, my own empathy training of sorts. This time, however, I saw things from the patient’s perspective when I had an extensive elective procedure done. I’d had this type of procedure done before without complications. I knew it would be uncomfortable and even painful, but I did not anticipate any emotional discomfort or need for retrospection or introspection. I was to be surprised. This time, I would do a great deal of looking back at the emotional ramifications, figuratively and literally, because the procedure was a large and detailed tattoo that would encompass my entire back. This time, introspection would be more than skin deep.
Getting a tattoo and being a medical patient have similarities, tangible and intangible.