Dr. Shapiro, who thinks that empathy training covers only part of the communication skills that need to be taught, emphasized the importance of avoiding too narrow a focus in terms of training. “What we’re looking for is for people to behave in a way that is the most conducive to relationship building in the clinical setting, and to me that has been taught in the framework of communication,” she said, adding that empathy is important but is only one component in that framework.
Explore This IssueDecember 2015
Dr. Shapiro highlighted the need for physicians to take into account patient preferences and priorities when talking to them about treatment options, and not just focusing on the benefit/risk conversation that often is not about what the patient wants. She also emphasized the need to ask the question, “What matters most to you?” when talking to a patient about treatment options.
Drs. Gray and Riess both emphasized that the empathy skills taught—such as making eye contact and sitting down at eye level with patients—do not take any additional time in the clinic to implement. Dr. Gray stressed, however, that it does require time as an educator to think about how to teach these skills.
To that end, she said that a web-based learning curriculum developed by Dr. Riess in partnership with the company Empathetics is a very helpful online tool that allows residents to learn on their own time and at their own pace (see “Web-Based Curriculum for Teaching Empathy,” p. 14).
Dr. Riess’s goal is to provide the training on a broader scale. “My aim is to get people doing this so they don’t need the training, but I think there is a steep climb before we get there,” she said.
Mary Beth Nierengarten is a freelance medical writer based in Minnesota.