IN HIS RESEARCH on the physician-patient relationship, Cousins1 found that 85% of people had changed physicians or were thinking of changing in the past 5 years. Many of those who changed did so because of their physician's poor communication skills. One of the qualities of effective communication is the use of empathy. Because some physicians have not learned to use empathy in their training as medical students and residents, they may be ineffective in the care of patients.2 In this article, we discuss the importance of empathy in medical practice and illustrate its use with two examples.
What Is Empathy?
Empathy is the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person's frame of reference, ie, the capacity to place oneself in another's shoes.3 The essence of empathic interaction is accurate understanding of another person's feelings. According to Aring,4 it is hardly
Bellet PS, Maloney MJ. The Importance of Empathy as an Interviewing Skill in Medicine. JAMA. 1991;266(13):1831–1832. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03470130111039
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