Empathy: Best Medicine for Doctor Burnout

We physicians begin learning the art of detachment the moment we begin our medical training. Even though we take an oath to be clinically competent and empathetic toward patients, the two hardly seem to square for us. 

Compounded by declining reimbursements and increasing overhead costs, we have even less time to spend with patients. When we do engage our patients in honest, open dialogue, we do so warily for fear of inducing any kind of kinship. This behavior contributes to depression and burnout.

For two decades now, medical institutions have imparted proof that apathy, not empathy, is what puts medical care at risk. Doctors who have good communication skills spend just a few more minutes with their patients, about three minutes per visit. 

Without veering into the too-familiar, physicians can show empathy by:
  • Asking patients more questions.
  • Encouraging patients to talk about their feelings.
  • Using humor when appropriate.
  • Educating patients about what to expect during their treatment.
Bottom line: When physicians become comfortable opening up and taking a chance on connection, we can expect better care, increased job satisfaction, and lower malpractice premiums.
See more practice improvement tips from Dr. Baum
Neil H. Baum, MD, is medical advisor to Vanguard Communications and author of two books: Marketing Your Clinical Practice - Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, now in its 4th edition, and The Complete Business Guide to a Successful Medical Practice.

Dr. Baum has been dubbed "Dr. Wiz" for his love of magic and his urology specialty practice. 
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