‘Please Empathize With Me, Doctor!’

The doctor/patient relationship has been the central instrument of healing throughout the history of medicine. Specific treatments come and specific treatments go. Some help patients; some hurt patients; many have no impact at all. But the constant of 4000 years of modern medicine has been the healing impact of the relationship with a doctor, however ineffective or harmful the type of treatment he provided.

In recent years, high tech medicine has undercut the value previously placed on the doctor/patient relationship. Doctors spend more and more time tending their powerful medical toys, less and less time getting to know their patients. They treat lab values, not people.

This would be OK if the new medicine lived up to its promise of razzle/dazzle, technically based cures. But usually it doesn’t. Diseases are really complicated and we are much better at finding abnormalities than at making people better. And medical errors, often caused by doctors not knowing their patients, have become the third leading cause of death in the US.

We need to combine the science of medicine with its art and to get our doctors and our patients back in sync. Medical schools are finally beginning to recognize this and are revising their entrance test to place more emphasis on the social, not just the biological sciences. It is crucial that we make medicine more humane.

The “Empathize With Me, Doctor!” project is a promising initiative in this direction, developed by Vassilios Kiosses and Ioannis Dimoliatis of the Medical Education Unit at the University of Ioannina in Greece. They write:

We provide an experiential training program aimed at improving health care professionals’ empathy, based on the Person-Centered Approach (PCA) founded by Carl Rogers. Unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence are elements that can create a safe climate where students develop alternative ways to —> Read More