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June 22, 2009

The Silent Dimension: Expressing Humanism in Each Medical Encounter

Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(12):1095-1099. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.103

Humanistic behavior is considered an essential component of professional medical care. However, the evidence shows that it is often neglected. Many barriers to the expression of sensitivity to the patient's concerns and empathy and compassion in the clinical encounter can be identified. Time constraints, poor continuity of care, appearance of alienating factors between patients and physicians, and the “hidden curriculum” are just a few in a long list. To overcome them, personal adoption of the CAPTURES* mnemonic technique is suggested. It includes Curiosity about the patient's personal aspects, finding something to Admire, trying to see things from the patient's Perspective, Touching and Using body language to convey caring, Reacting to the patient, and Stressing any positive or encouraging aspects to provide Support, reassurance, and hope. Four brief case examples are presented herein to demonstrate that a warm, interested, and supportive attitude toward patients can be regularly adopted with ease in every setting. Personal inclusion of the humanistic aspect in each patient-physician encounter accompanied by several of the institutional educational changes indicated may significantly alter the current scene despite obvious limitations. Marked benefits for both physicians and patients can be expected, including improvements in patients' satisfaction, trust, and compliance, leading to significantly better “hard” health outcomes. Thus, sincere humanistic behavior can become an integral part of the encounter, correcting current deficiencies and catching up with the astounding advances of modern biomedicine.

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