Physicians’ empathy can lead to physical improvements in patients

The Wellesley News


Staff Columnist 

If you have ever developed a close relationship with your doctor, you know the effect a positive, supportive connection can have on the entire treatment process. Physicians do more than treat physical pains or illnesses; they give emotional care as well. As the director and founder of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Empathy and Relational Science Program, Dr. Helen Riess studies how physicians’ empathy can impact their patients’ health and well-being.

Her most recent findings show that improving the quality of clinicians’ relationships with their patients can produce small but significant improvements in their patients’ physical health. “I hope doctors realize that taking the extra time to make themselves available or remember things about their patients will not only strengthen the relationship they have with their patients but will also result in patients’ overall health improvements,” Riess said.

Past research has examined how manipulating specific facets…

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Is your doctor paying attention?

An excellent blog by Carolyn Thomas on the importance of paying attention — both by physician and patient alike.

Heart Sisters

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

When Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Mary O’Connorpublished her compelling essay called The Woman Patient: Is Her Voice Heard?“, she raised some frightening questions, particularly for those of us carrying the XX chromosomes.  Examples of what she calls the medical profession’s unconscious bias” against female patients include:

  • women are 22 times less likely to be referred for knee replacement surgerycompared to men presenting with the same symptoms and diagnoses
  • girls on pediatric kidney transplant lists are 22% less likely to get a new kidney compared to boys
  • women in their 50s and younger are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed and sent home from Emergency compared to their male counterparts of the same age presenting with comparable heart attack symptoms(1)

But perhaps the most disturbing lesson was the pervasive sense that somehow docs are just not getting…

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Reprise: Is Anyone Listening? A quick service tale

Blanchard LeaderChat

bigstock-Close-up-of-female-doctor-usin-46247311Walking out to the supermarket with a bag in each hand, I felt “pain” as I took a step. It was like a snap in my foot and PAIN, like a pinch – ouch! I got to the car and drove home.  My foot was swollen and it hurt–especially if I put any weight on it. As soon as I put the groceries away, I called and got an appointment with the Physician’s Assistant at my doctor’s office.

(A little bit about my doctor – looking at the photo collages on her office walls, you could have cut her face out and put mine in. We had lived such similar lives – I could have matched her photo for photo.  We were close in age, both first born, and I felt very connected with her. She was a good listener – I thought…)

Back to the pain in my foot…

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The Power of Empathy and Emotional Intelligence for the Patient Experience

Increasing research and evidence point not only to the benefits of empathy for patients but to the providers who feel empathy and make a meaningful emotional connection with their patients. Colette Herrick writes an incredible article on the power of empathy and the importance of “Emotional Intelligence in Health Care Relationships.” I am grateful to have come across this piece through Carolyn Thomas’ blog “Heart Sisters.”

Heart Sisters

I’m so pleased to share, with her kind permission, this guest post written by Colette Herrick, originally published on the Six Seconds website. I especially love her example of how a new puppy taught her twin grandchildren a powerful lesson in compassion.

“While medicine continues to advance, receiving health care as a patient is fundamentally a human process.

At the center of effective care delivery is a connection between the health care provider and patient. Yet in the last 25 years, many pressures have eroded the quality of this human-to-human healing connection. The good news is that in spite of all the external and very real pressures on the patient-provider relationship, research reveals something many of us have known: health care providers can learn fairly simple skills that make a large difference. 

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“The Power of We” Is Critical for Optimizing Healing Healthcare

John Wenger’s article “The Power of We” reminds me of the critical importance of eliminating a siloed and episodic approach to care and services in healthcare that not only negatively impact patients and their families but also the caregivers providing the care and services. Studies show that seamless and coordinated care and services have several and comprehensive benefits: improved patient satisfaction and safety, better communication and clinical outcomes, and improved staff and physician morale and satisfaction — just to name a few. To help optimize healing healthcare, hospitals and other healthcare organizations will do well by considering the reflection questions posed by Wenger in his blog that invite us to consider our purpose and mission (read: improving the health and wellness of the communities we serve). With this purpose and mission, we rediscover our common and shared purpose and “the power of we!” With “the power of we,” services, units, offices, departments, jobs, titles, and pay grades matter less than those whom we serve, and we’re reminded that each one of us is the patient experience.

quantum shifting


Interesting what can spark an idea and create insight.  Staring at the full moon the other night, I found myself marvelling, yet again, that we’ve been there.    That led me to consider the languaging: “We’ve been to the moon.”  We?  We’ve been there?  In fact, from Armstrong to Cernan, only 12 white American men have actually set foot on the moon, yet we often include ourselves in this achievement.  It is notable that this landmark is considered to be a milestone in human achievement and so we talk about it in collective terms.  It came about after JFK set a vision and “we” went along with him.  A vision.

There are other achievements that you’ll hear people include themselves in.  We defeated Nazism.  We eradicated smallpox.  We developed penicillin.  How did we manage this?

So what happens to us when we go to work and lose this ability…

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Daphne Nash: Patient Experience: the extended version

In this blog, As Daphne Nash highlights the great example of a physician who was thrust into unfamiliar territory due to Hurricane Sandy that gave her a renewed appreciation of what it is like for patients and their family members to navigate the “foreign land” of a healthcare system, organization, and delivery process. Excellent article and insights that when taken to heart can help all of us as caregivers in the process of optimizing healing healthcare.

4 key ingredients for creating an exceptional patient experience

Whether maintenance man, physician, housekeeper, nurse, pharmacist, receptionist, social worker, valet, OT, PT, food service worker, patient care tech, etc., we are the patient experience and transform the ordinary into the extraordinary by bringing together the four key ingredients outlined in my latest blog published by Hospital Impact.

Read more.