Empathy, Sympathy, and Patient Care

April 14, 2013

This is something I’ve thought about for a while, but recently it has come up more and more. I believe healthcare is a complicated world, but patient care must be at the center of it. Why else are we here?  Healthcare is about getting the patient well within our specific domains. There are many domains of healthcare from surgeons to non-operative medical care, to pharmaceutical to rehab, etc. We all practice within our specifics and for me that’s athletic training and rehab. I work in a physical therapy clinic and provide outreach athletic training services. But we interact with so many other healthcare professionals too. This post is based on conversations I’ve had with patients and a video that was shared in a work meeting last month.

I recently had a conversation with an athlete and her mom after she had surgery. They commented that in their first visit after surgery, the staff went about their work to the point of scaring both the patient and the mother. It’s not that they did anything wrong because sometimes you do have to be aggressive completing a procedure, but it sounds to me as if little warning was given. As healthcare providers, we have to remember that our patients are often here to better their lives. It’s not that they chose to be here, but for whatever reason their health has led them to our door. There is a lot of emotion involved and we may have done this a thousand times, but it’s only the first (and hopefully the last?) time for them.

I think it’s important that we work to make our patients comfortable. We must build that trusting relationship from the first time we meet the patient all the way through the conclusion of care. At that given time, that patient must be the most important thing we do. We must respect the patient and help them down the path for success that they want to achieve. Putting a patient at ease can go a long way in successful outcomes.

One way we can help is by educating our patients. I think a common mistake healthcare providers make is just assuming a patient understands what is going on or having the belief that “they won’t understand” so we don’t try. There are times that I think I spend more time educating the patient than I do treating him or her. I believe that knowledge is power and giving the patient the knowledge about their injury is crucial to a successful outcome.

Additionally, think about how your patient feels. Is this their first big injury? Is it life-altering? What are their goals? Why did they come to see you in the first place?


I encourage you to watch this video. It hit home to me and it hit home to many of my co-workers…


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