Empathy in Communicating with Patients, Family and Staff 2
In demonstrating empathy, the most logical way would be to take the patient to a calm, relaxed and private place away from the family. Then in a calm way, ask the patient what they feel about what they think the diagnosis is going to be. Then in a slow but sure way, inform the patient of the diagnosis, the options for treatment available. Finally, give your own personal opinion. During this whole encounter, keep good eye contact to develop a sense of trust and be able to read their emotion, and hold the patients hand or put your arm around their shoulder to give a reassuring sense that you care. After the patient has come to terms with their new status, go to the family and in the same way deliver the news with the available options and your personal opinion.
If sympathy was used in this scenario, one would issue the diagnosis to the whole family together with the patient. It would be so easy to come to tears as sympathy feels for the patient instead of with the patient as is the case with empathy. This would rase emotions in the room and even cause others to react irrationally.
Arrange an informal meeting with the staff member, preferably over a meal or coffee in the hospital cafeteria. This creates a suitable environment for discussion. Maintaining eye contact, ask the staff member how they are doing and ask about their life outside of work, this is because most mistakes are made due to underlying stress from outside work. This sense of care and understanding would lead the staff member to open up and reveal the real cause as to why they made the mistake. In a polite way, reassure the staff that everyone is human and they are
Empathy in Communicating with Patients, Family and Staff 3
prone to making mistakes. This will calm their nerves and finally let them know that they should try to avoid that kind of mistake in the future and if they are unsure about anything pertaining to work, they can always consult you.
Knowing that this situation can explode into a full-blown confrontation, kindly and humbly tell the patient to calm down in a low and reserved tone. By not responding in a high tone, the patient will feel the urge to lower their voice. Offer to talk in private with the patient and take them to a secluded and private place. Once seated, find out the source of the patient’s grievance. Listen carefully maintaining eye contact and reading their body language to tell the emotion behind every word they say, this is crucial in gauging the direction of the conversation and calculating the response. Make a logical decision, in this case, it would be to relieve the patient of the extra bill and kindly apologize on behalf of the hospital staff for the mistake.
Request the staff member to meet you over coffee or lunch in the cafeteria. Maintain eye contact and let the staff member talk their mind and what they feel. Offer your explanation and reason for each of the cases that they accuse you of evading the “dirty work”. Try to find common ground in you reasoning by accepting to the cases that you are guilty and promise to do more of the “dirty work”. This approach using empathy understands the position of the other staff member and helps you come with logical solutions to the underlying problem.
Empathy in Communicating with Patients, Family and Staff 4
Should sympathy have been used, both you and the staff member would have been embroiled in an emotional discussion that would not have resulted in a long=-term solution to the underlying problems.
Benner, P. E., Hooper-Kyriakiddis, P. L., Stannard, D., & Benner, P. E. (2011). linical wisdom and interventions in acute and critical care: A thinking-in-action approach. New York: Springer Pub.
Bickley, L. S., Szilagyi, P. G., & Bates, B. (2013). Bates' guide to physical examination and history taking. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
In Coplan, A., & In Goldie, P. (2011). Empathy: Philosophical and psychological perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press.