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    Empathy as an Important Tool in Any Doctor's Arsenal

    Empathy as an Important Tool in Any Doctor's Arsenal

    In our society, which is multicultural, it is extremely important that al doctors are empathetic and competent. Empathy enables doctors to make a substantial contribution in the lives of patients and allows them to avoid burnout.

    Primarily, empathy is an interpersonal and social that enables sharing of experiences, needs, and desires between individuals and provides an emotional bridge that promotes pro-social behavior. This skills amongst healthcare professionals tends to go a long way for the welfare of both peers and patients.

    Today many healthcare professionals fail to realize that empathy can be learnt. This is essentially not a quality that one develops in early childhood, rather it can be learnt. Over the past 20 years, when functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), there has been ample research in terms of cognitive neuroscience. For instance, it is now understandable that mirror neurons allow one person to feel the pain of another person. They are responsible for emotional contagion. Recently, it was studied that another area of the brain, the right supramarginal gyrus, that allow humans to recognize and understand emotional egocentricities enabling them to imagine and relate to the perspective of others.

    It may come to you as a surprise that patient's emotion helps in unlocking more about their health conditions. It has been deduced that effective communication and empathy don't only determine the health outcomes of patients, but also help in reducing the likelihood of litigation in contrast to technical expertise or theoretical knowledge. When the doctor patient interaction takes place, empathy is a critical element of any communication that has an impact on prescription and diagnosis. Those doctors who understand the attitudes, feeling and experiences of patients, it leads to an effective therapeutic agreement, increased adherences and better patient outcomes. Also, empathy tends to mitigate against the burnout of doctors improving mental health and enhancing the sense of connection and well-being that derives from working in the healthcare setting.

    So, what is clinical empathy actually?

    Empathy when it comes to the doctor patient relationship is termed as clinical empathy, a primary concept that has various cognitive domains. Emotional empathy tends to show evolutionary traits that are a result of activation of mirror neurons, it is particular in those instances where patient is perceived consciously or subconsciously from belonging to the same tribe.

    In order to limit over identification, it is integral that empathy has to be balanced with self-awareness alongside the ability to separate the emotions of one person from another. With cognitive empathy, doctors are able to understand the perspective of patient as being different from their own. By understanding the difference, one can realize what patients are actually feeling, experiencing or thinking.

    Cognitive empathy is important in those cases where there is a probability of evolutionary bias in terms of religion, race, caste, ethnicity, physical appearance where affective empathy may not be a direct response. All in all, cognitive empathy results in limitation when it comes to emotional contagion and thus requires mindfulness, self-awareness and perspective taking which is learnt with experience and practice.

    Nurturing Cognitive Empathy

    A variety of people within the healthcare setting tend to assume that they are empathetic or they don't possess this quality naturally. They are of the opinion that empathetic communication cannot be taught, but in reality, none of these statements are actually true. Cognitive empathy can be learnt over time, and does not change the way one thinks or feels, but helps in recognizing that the way in which a person responds to a situation may be different from the response of the patient. It is all about trying to understand the difference and communicating the assumptions to the patient effectively so that all treatment plans are relevant and appropriate.

    Empathetic communication is thereby necessary and integral skill for doctors and needs to be taught in all med schools. Learning about empathetic communication similar to any other skill is not that easy but requires persistent effort and practice. Role models are generally not there, but with awareness and effort, the transition can be smooth and natural.