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January 22, 1996

Empathy Revisited

Author Affiliations

Lynchburg Family Practice Residency Program 2097 Langhorne Rd Lynchburg, VA 24501

Arch Intern Med. 1996;156(2):135-136. doi:10.1001/archinte.1996.00440020033004

MANY patients and even some physicians believe that physicians today are too emotionally detached from their patients.1-3 To close the emotional distance between patient and physician, Spiro1 claims physicians need empathy. Empathy may close the emotional distance between patient and physician, but does it make the physician a more effective healer? Convincing physicians that this is true may encourage them to be more empathic.

THE GOAL OF MEDICINE  The goal of medicine is to heal the sick patient. When cure is not possible, the physician aims to relieve patient suffering. There may be other goals, such as educating the public about communicable diseases or prevention of heart disease. However, the essential goal of medicine is to cure or comfort the sick patient in the context of a relationship. To accomplish this goal, the physician needs many complex intellectual, technical, and interpersonal skills. Most important, the physician must be

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