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I have treated fearful people since I first saw patients as a student.   I  increasingly became concerned with patient fear.   Sedation was incorporated into my practice to improve the ability to see patients that were fearful.  The cause of their fear became more and more relevant to me.  I discovered that I needed to hire more empathetic employees and I needed to address my own empathy.  I started to study empathy and soon realized that empathy in healthcare, or lack of empathy,  was a huge issue.  In my own office I adopted the practice of a new patient interview in which the focus was on the patients goals, values, and concerns.  It was an epiphany.  Far too many patients told me between tears that "No doctor has ever listened to me before.....ever.  This is the first time."  That impressed and distressed me.  I knew that treatment outcomes were effected by the providers empathy.  This was also supported in the medical literature that I was reading.  What is your experience, either as a healthcare provider or a patient?

9/23/2012 06:09:58 pm

Hello Dr. Carsten, and thank you for posting this thought-provoking and compassionate site!
Everyone has been impacted by medical/health issues in one way or another, whether for themselves, or via a loved one. While I've managed to survive my own medical misdiagnosis of breast cancer in 2007, my husband did not survive a heart condition where doctors kept sending him for physical therapy... He went to a variety of doctors and talked consistently about his symptoms (including an emergency room visit) and if one of those doctors had actually LISTENED, he would still be with us today.
While your site is new, I am encouraged by your approach in putting the patient first, easing their fears and taking time to get to know them so that you can sort out their symptoms. I look forward to reading more posts and discussions about how patients can take charge of their own lives with the help of medical professionals who treat a person holistically and with an open mind.

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Janet Accetta
9/26/2012 01:06:44 am

Dr. Carsten:

I was very encouraged to read about your study of empathy in health care, and your compassionate new patient interview. You are correct in stating that lack of empathy in healthcare is a huge issue.

I was a hospital social worker for many years, and at the beginning of my career, listening to patients with empathy was encouraged, and was considered the most important aspect of being a social worker. Gradually, through the years, I saw the field of social work deteriorate in hospitals, to the point where we were not considered patient advocates any longer, but advocates of the hospital administration. In the facility in which I was employed, empathy was seen as a liability. At that point, after 17 years, I chose to leave the field. I commend you on your sincere efforts to incorporate compassion and empathy into your profession.

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