EMPATHY IS THE CORE OF PATIENT-CENTRICITY

EMPATHY IS THE CORE OF PATIENT-CENTRICITY

Roger Ebert once said ‘I believe Empathy is the most essential quality of civilization’. Empathy is defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as ‘the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner’. We prefer to use a less complex definition: ‘Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another’.
We nonchalantly talk about the patient journey through our healthcare system as if it’s the ‘It’s a Small World’ ride at Disneyland. But in reality it’s a scary, frustrating, and often humiliating ride on a roller coaster of confusion and uncertainty–due in part to a lack of empathy in a system that ‘paints by numbers’ rather than with emotional connectivity.
Let’s take a moment to consider my friend Elizabeth–a 46-year old woman who has just been told she has Stage 2 breast cancer. Elizabeth is scared, overwhelmed, and feels hopeless. She needs access to, and the support from, people that know what she is experiencing. She wants relevant, credible information she can understand and rely on and above all else she needs to believe she can be involved in decisions about her future health and wellbeing. Elizabeth has a college degree but lacks the health literacy to understand the information her oncologist has given her—she just wants to know what options are available so she can fully understand and appreciate the impact this diagnosis will have on her daily life, her family, and her future.
Empathy provides an understanding of Elizabeth’s mindset, perceptions, emotions, and her immediate needs. It’s the core to patient-centricity–a term that is often written in business plans but rarely put into practice in a meaningful and impactful way. Empathy is the key to patient-centricity and until we shed our own preconceived notions and focus on listening, understanding, and experiencing what someone else is going through we won’t be able to be empathetic stakeholders who make a real and meaningful difference to the health and wellness of our fellow human beings.


About Author : Neil Matheson


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