Empathy

13 12 2009

The next Grand Rounds will be hosted by Barbara Olson of Florence dot com. The theme will be Simplify, identical to the theme of the annual conference of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Orlando. We are invited to share what’s on our mind about any healthcare-related topic indicating with one word why it is important.

My word is Empathy, because it is a versatile,  important skill doctors should have (besides knowledge and technical expertise to name a few other important skills). Empathy is especially important with vulnerable patients, the old and very young.

It strikes me that pediatricians are often very kind and pleasant doctors. They know how to ‘handle’ kids. GP’s also have to deal with kids a lot, but they’re often less patient and kind. At least that applies to our GP. I have had various issues with him, although never outspoken. He is a good doctor, but can be rude at times.

This is a funny story.

Once upon a time, we had to regularly visit our doctor, because my daughter, then 4 to 5 years old, had all kinds of small complaints.

Once she had (innocent) warts. He had to scrape them, but because my daughter found this painful, we had to pretreat the warts with EMLA plasters that numb the skin. I had to do that at home, but the plaster at the inner side of her knee had loosened after a half our walk to the doctor’s practice. He grumbled that I didn’t do it right and that I had to come back another time, meanwhile hard-handedly removing the other warts, forgetting half of them. My daughter didn’t enjoy the scrapings, the corners of her mouth trembling in her attempts not to cry.

After most of the warts had been removed, the doctor took a big flat box with all kinds of little presents, he obviously gave to children at the end of the ordeal.

“Here. You can choose a present!”

My daughter looked at all the minute presents, pondering which one to choose.

There were a lot of rings, with blue stones, red stones, pink stones. There were necklaces, little toys, games….

“Choose one”.

She choose a ring with a pink stone. But wait, that blue ring was nicer and she returned the ring with the pink stone .

But the little patience my doctor had was at an end.

He grabbed something from the box and put it into my daughter’s hand: “Here!”

It was a simple round cardboard with the most silly sheep drawing I have ever seen. With open mound my daughter received the present. Speechless she stared at the gift.

The doctor gestured we could leave the room. He apparently met his obligations with the gift.

With the door handle in my hand, I saw my daughter making a sudden turn. She took one last look at the sheep to throw it as an experienced pitcher straight at the doctor’s desk.

We heard a loud “Well, I never!”, when we left the room.

Added 2009-12-15:

Summary by Barbara at Florence.dot.com:

Jacqueline at Laika’s MedLibLog captures the arachnoid spirit, giving her post a one word title: empathy. The post shows how much we long for care that considers more about who we are than our “chief complaint” often reveals. If Jacqueline had been in the mood to spin longer, she could have called this post, “What comes around, goes around!”
Hit the nail on the head, Barbara!

Photo Credits:

“You are a lamb”, adapted from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/onegoodbumblebee/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Appropriate bedside manners

14 05 2008

Do you prefer a doctor that is crying at the bedside or rather one that stays calm and keeps at a professional distance???

My previous post on Etiquette Based Medicine also dealt with ‘correct’ attitudes of doctors towards their patients. Here I quoted Dr. Khan who believes that “patients may care less about whether their doctors are reflective and empathic than whether they are respectful and attentive”. His opinion is shared by many, but certainly not by all. I allready cited a British Journal of General Practice issue on doctor-patient communication, where different viewes were presented. Well, the debate is still ongoing. In the NY Times of 22nd April was a interesting piece about physicians crying at the bedside: At Bedside, Stay Stoic or Display Emotions? [*requires registration].

Some excerpts:

“A young doctor sat down with a terminal lung cancer patient and her husband to discuss the woman’s gloomy prognosis. The patient began to cry. Then the doctor did, too.

At a recent meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine, Dr. Anthony D. Sung of Harvard Medical School and colleagues reported that 69 percent of medical students and 74 percent of interns said they had cried at least once.

In the 1988 PBS documentary “Can We Make a Better Doctor?” a Harvard medical student, Jane Liebschutz, sees her patient unexpectedly die during a cardiac bypass operation. She suddenly bursts into tears and wanders away from her colleagues until the chief surgeon, who has witnessed what happened, assures her that her response was natural.

Dr. Benita Burke, skipped lunch to spend extra time with her cancer patients. They dubbed this time “mental health rounds,” during which they could address issues that were not strictly medical. Many times, Dr. Burke would wind up in tears or giving an embrace.

The comments in the NY Times and at two blogs (DB’s Medical Rants and Clinical Cases and Images) are also worth reading. These responses illustrate that there is not one truth. Whether strong emotions like crying are appropriate depends on the doctor, the patient, the situation and where and how emotions are expressed. Most patients do not seem to appreciate outright crying at their bedside as it makes them insecure. A crying doctor might also feel like a final verdict: no hope is left. But nobody would blame an intern for crying with his or her mates. And a doctor who cries in front of the patient’s family when sharing information about a serious medical error might help to accept what happened.

So, what kind of doctor would you prefer?

I agree with Dr Hiram Cody, cited in the NY Times, who cautions against excess emotions. Although Dr. Cody emphasizes the need for doctors “to understand, to sympathize, to empathize and to reassure,” he says his job “is not to be emotional and/or cry with his patients for two reasons: It is not therapeutic for the patient, and it will cause “emotional burnout”. (although I’m not sure about the latter)

Personally I prefer a doctor with great knowledge, but openminded to other ideas, attentive and empathic, but without loosing a certain distance, a good listener, explaining disease and treatment options, ….. but no crying, please, never! Never when I’m around. Not when I’m the patient.

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NL flagToevallig kwam ik in mijn Feed-Reader een bericht tegen uit de New York Times van 22 april, dat perfect aansluit op mijn vorige post over Etiquette Based Medicine: At Bedside, Stay Stoic or Display Emotions? [*registratie vereist].

Dit stuk bespreekt de voor en tegens van een dokter die zich “laat gaan”.

Enkele citaten:

A young doctor sat down with a terminal lung cancer patient and her husband to discuss the woman’s gloomy prognosis. The patient began to cry. Then the doctor did, too.

At a recent meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine, Dr. Anthony D. Sung of Harvard Medical School and colleagues reported that 69 percent of medical students and 74 percent of interns said they had cried at least once.

In the 1988 PBS documentary “Can We Make a Better Doctor?” a Harvard medical student, Jane Liebschutz, sees her patient unexpectedly die during a cardiac bypass operation. She suddenly bursts into tears and wanders away from her colleagues until the chief surgeon, who has witnessed what happened, assures her that her response was natural.

Dr. Benita Burke, skipped lunch to spend extra time with her cancer patients. They dubbed this time “mental health rounds,” during which they could address issues that were not strictly medical. Many times, Dr. Burke would wind up in tears or giving an embrace.

Behalve dit stuk zijn ook de commentaren in de NY-times zelf en op 2 blogs (DB’s Medical Rants en Clinical Cases and Images) de moeite van het lezen waard. Diverse meningen passeren de revue, zowel die van dokters als patiënten of familie. Hieruit blijkt dat er niet één waarheid is. Of het uiten van heel sterke emoties kàn, hangt erg af van de dokter, de patient, hun relatie en de situatie. De meeste patienten vinden het uiten van emoties wél belangrijk (“een dokter moet geen robot zijn”), maar velen vinden te sterke emoties zoals het in huilen uitbarsten waar de patient bijstaat niet prettig, omdat ze juist willen dat ze op hun arts kunnen steunen. Gaat het om een heel slechte boodschap (kanker bijvoorbeeld) dan kan de patient het ook ervaren dat hij opgegeven is: de arts neemt alle hoop dan in een keer weg. Maar als een co-assistent bij het overlijden van zijn/haar “eerste” patient bij haar vrienden uithuilt kan iedereen dat begrijpen. Als een dokter huilt wanneer hij slecht nieuws brengt over een dierbare ten gevolge van een medische fout, dan kan dat bij de verwerking helpen.

Maar welke dokter zou jij verkiezen?

Ik ben het in grote lijnen met Dr Hiram Cody eens. In de NY Times waarschuwt hij tegen overmatige emoties. Hij benadrukt weliswaar dat artsen begripvol moeten zijn, moeten meeleven, empathisch moeten zijn en gerust moeten stellen, maar echt emotioneel zijn en huilen raadt hij af omdat het noch de patient noch de arts goed doet.

Persoonlijk verkies ik een arts met een goede kennis van zaken, maar die wel openstaat voor andere opvattingen, die meeleeft en empathisch is wanneer nodig. Hij moet goed kunnen luisteren, mij serieus nemen, goed kunnen uitleggen waarom ik iets heb en welke behandelingsmogelijkheden er zijn (met hun voor-en nadelen). Hij moet eerlijk zijn en als ik het nodig zou hebben is een beetje emotie en een beetje warmte prettig. Maar huilen, nee. Geen huilen waar ik bij ben. Niet wanneer ik de patient ben.





Etiquette-Based Medicine

11 05 2008

Every now and than my collegue Heleen provides me with an interesting paper (a nice web 1.0 way of sharing things). Last Friday I found this paper on my desk: “Etiquette-Based medicine” from Michael W Kahn. The paper in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine is not about the substition of “evidence based medicine” or “eminence-based medicine” by “etiquette-based medicine”. It is about the importance of a good attitude of doctors towards their patients.

When psychiatrist Dr. Khan hears patients complain about doctors, their criticism often has nothing to do with not feeling understood or empathized with. Instead, they object that “he just stared at his computer screen,” “she never smiles,” or “I had no idea who I was talking to”, he writes.
On the contrary, during his own hospitalization he noticed the professional attitude of his European-born surgeon having Old World manners (dress, body language, eye contact etc.).

“The impression this surgeon made was remarkably calming, and it helped to confirm my suspicion that patients may care less about whether their doctors are reflective and empathic than whether they are respectful and attentive”, wrote Dr. Kahn.

Therefore, Khan suggests that medical education and postgraduate training should place more emphasis on “etiquette-based medicine” as it forms the basis of the patient-doctor relationship. One approach would be to introduce a checklist to enforce an etiquette-based approach. A checklist for the first meeting with a patient would for instance cover items like ‘asking permission to enter the room and wait for an answer’, ‘introducing yourselve, showing your ID badge’ and ‘explaining you role on the team’.

This approach bears resemblance to the program introduced at several Academical Medical Centres in the Netherlands. For instance Maas Jan Heineman, nowadays Professor Gynaecology in the Amsterdam Medical Centre (AMC), Amsterdam, helped to introduce such a “etiquette program” in Groningen and in Amsterdam. The competences of the doctors and the integration of knowledge, skills and attitude are now central to the new curricula. As Heineman says it: “What good are doctors who have great knowledge but behave badly. Or vice versa”?! )

These thoughts are (of course) not specifically Dutch (nor European). The entire 2005 January issue of the British Journal of General practice focuses on this subject.

The journal issue ends with a bookreview of a UK-US guide to communicating with patients, consisting of a book ‘Skills for Communicating with Patients’ and a companion volume, ‘Teaching and Learning Communication Skills in Medicine‘, which translates the first book into a framework that can be used in designing and delivering curricula for communications skills teaching in both the academic and clinical setting.

The reviewer, Iain Lawrie, is very positive about the content:

“The layout and language are clear and unambiguous throughout. Important points are emphasised where necessary, and at no time does reading become laborious. Far more importantly, however, the authors have employed an evidence-based approach that moves these titles from the realm of personal opinion and musings to an authoritative work. The frequent use of examples further serves to promote this series as a ‘useable’ guide. (….)
The book gives examples Skills for Communicating with Patients, the authors use a logical approach to analyse the various aspects of communication relevant throughout the consultation process, which are then explored in greater depth over six chapters. They move from the initiation of a consultation (!), through information gathering, structuring, and relationship building, to the often neglected areas of explaining and planning and, finally, closing the encounter.”

Thus it seems that the awareness within the medical community about the necessity of good communication skills is growing. The tools are there, some curricula have already embraced “etiquette based medicine” (although not called by that name) and it seems just a matter of time before “etiquette” becomes an integral part of medical education.

Lets conclude with a quote from the abovementioned book, that also applies to professions other than medical:

‘If you can’t communicate, it doesn’t matter what you know’

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Van mijn collega Heleen krijg ik af en toe een artikel of een krantenknipsel toegeschoven. Nog geheel op de ouderwetse web 1.0 manier, maar eigenlijk wel zo leuk. Van de week lag er een artikel in mijn postvak getiteld “Etiquette-Based medicine”, geschreven door Michael W Kahn. Ik dacht eerst “weer een zogenaamd alternatief voor “evidence based-“ of “eminence-based medicine”, maar het artikel in het laatste nummer van de New England Journal of Medicine ziet “Etiquette-Based medicine” meer als een aanvulling. Het gaat over het belang van een juiste attitude van de arts tegenover zijn patient.

De klachten die Dr. Khan als psychiater van patiënten over artsen hoort gaan meestal niet over gebrek aan empathie maar veel meer over zaken als: “hij staarde maar naar zijn computerscherm”, “er kan geen lachje af”, “ik had geen idee met wie ik nou te maken had”.

Toen Khan zelf in het ziekenhuis lag had hij precies de tegenovergestelde ervaring. De behandelend chirurg van europese herkomst kwam door zijn zogenaamde ‘Oude-Wereld’ houding (kleding, lichaamstaal, oogcontact) bijzonder professioneel en geruststellend over.

Dit sterkte Khan in zijn idee dat patiënten het veel belangrijker vinden dat hun arts hen met respect en met aandacht bejegent dan dat hij heel erg meelevend is.

Hij stelt daarom dat er in het medisch onderwijs meer aandacht moet komen voor wat hij “etiquette-based medicine” noemt, daar dit de grondslag van een goede patient-doctor relatie vormt. Een checklist zou daarbij kunnen helpen. Als een arts de patient voor het eerst ziet zou hij bijvoorbeeld eerst moeten vragen of hij welkom is en pas als de patiënt akkoord is zou hij naar binnen moeten gaan, een hand moeten geven en zich voor moeten stellen.

Iets dergelijks gebeurt reeds in diverse Nederlandse universitair medische centra. Professor Maas Jan Heineman heeft zo’n “etiquette programma” eerst in het UMCG in Groningen en nu in het AMC te Amsterdam geïnitieerd. In het nieuwe curriculum staan de competenties van de arts centraal en een integratie van kennis, vaardigheden en gedrag. Je hebt tenslotte niets aan een dokter die weliswaar veel weet, maar zich vreselijk gedraagt, of andersom”, aldus Heineman. )

Zo’n benadering is niet specifiek Nederlands, noch Europees. Een heel nummer van het British Journal of General practice (jan 2005) gaat enkel over dit onderwerp.

Het laatste artikel is een boekbespreking van een ‘UK-US gids’ over communicatievaardigheden: ‘Skills for Communicating with Patients” en een begeleidend boekje, Teaching and Learning Communication Skills in Medicine. ]

De recensent Iain Lawrie is erg positief over het boek. Het is helder geschreven en legt de juiste nadrukken. Verder stijgt het werk door de evidence-based benadering boven een opeensomming van feitjes en meningen uit. Het begeleidende boek geeft voorbeelden van hoe te handelen in bepaalde situaties, bijvoorbeeld tijdens het eerste consult. Het boek omvat dus precies wat Khan suggereerde.

Het lijkt er dus op dat men zich binnen de medische wereld steeds meer bewust wordt van de noodzaak van goede communicatievaardigheden. Er zijn al ‘leermethoden’ beschikbaar en in enkele curriculums is etiquette based medicine reeds verweven (zij het onder een andere naam). Het is slechts een kwestie van tijd voordat etiquette een vanzelfsprekend onderdeel van de medische vorming is.

Tot slot een citaat uit het eerder aangehaalde boek (dat eigenlijk op veel meer beroepen van toepassing is):

‘If you can’t communicate, it doesn’t matter what you know.’