Selected Approaches to Enhance Empathy in Clinical Ambience

Several approaches to enhance empathy have been developed by social and developmental psychologists, counselors, and nursing and medical educators.The common goal of all of the approaches is to enhance the understanding of healthcare professionals and administrators about patients' concerns and experiences. In addition, improving skills to convey this understanding to the patient is another goal of most of these approaches.

Five approaches are listed below to enhance empathy in the clinical environment.

Improving Interpersonal Skills

 Interpersonal skills development is considered an essential prerequisite to demonstrating empathic behavior. Researchers in the health professions have attempted to enhance empathy by offering educational programs to improve students' interpersonal skills that implicitly imply the enhancement of the capacity for empathy. Empathy is based on the development of three basic communication skills namely, "recognition" of the patient's negative emotions, concerns, and inner experiences; "exploration" of these emotions, concerns, and experiences; and "acknowledging" them to generate a feeling in the patient of being understood.

 Audio- or Video-Taping of Encounters with Patients

A review and analysis of audio- or video-taping of patient encounter with physicians, nurses, hospitals, and office administrators to identify positive and negative interviewing factors is a valuable learning experience for enhancing the environment. Audio-taped conversations between patients and physicians can help identify the empathic opportunities and physicians' positive responses, as well as demonstrate missed opportunities or cases in which the concern-related part of the conversation was terminated.  It showed improvement in medical students' empathy. After each tape-recorded interview, the students can join a group and their faculty instructors to discuss and analyze different sections of the interview. The videotape could be paused, forwarded, and rewound during the analysis.


Role Playing (Aging Games)

It is an effective method to identify the problems faced by aged people. The game generally consists of three stages. In the first stage, students are instructed to imagine that they are old (e.g., 70 to 99 years old) and use earplugs to simulate hearing loss. The second stage begins with the simulation that represents independent living in one area, then proceeds to semi-dependent living in another area, and finally to the third area that simulates dependent living where they are confined to wheelchairs and stretches. It is suggested that role-playing results in the development of awareness and increased understanding of elderly patients.

Hospitalization Experiences

Sharing common experiences can influence the empathic understanding of the patient. The tendency of health professionals to empathize with those with whom they share common experiences has been described as the "wounded healer effect." they gave to physicians! Because of the effect of hospitalization on a physician's understanding of patients, suggested that actual hospitalization experiences can be used as a criterion for admission to medical schools.

The Study of Literature and the Arts

 Some researchers have proposed that reading literature, stories, novels, and poetry; watching movies, plays, photographs, paintings, and sculptures; and listening to music and songs expose medical students, physicians, and health professionals to a rich source of knowledge and insights about human emotions, pain and suffering, and perspectives of other human beings which improves the capacity for forming an empathic connection.

 Clinical and organizational managers in health care institutions and human services organizations should develop well-designed and effective institutional-wide programs to retain, cultivate, and enhance a culture of empathic understanding based on approaches as discussed in this blog.

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