Importance of empathy
Empathic care improves patient experience and satisfaction, health outcomes and practitioner wellbeing. Amongst other things, it can reduce pain and therefore medication use, and reduce the number – and length – of hospital admissions. Moreover, practising with empathy can help to improve staff resilience.
We know that practitioners who provide empathic care not only increase patients’ quality of life and even life expectancy, but also improve their own job satisfaction and reduce the risk of burnout. Having the tools to connect with other people and build personal resilience can improve the wellbeing of practitioners across the NHS, strengthening the resilience and motivation of a workforce that has never been more recognised for its critical role in society.
Yet, there is some evidence that empathy declines in medical students during undergraduate education, and anecdotal experiences of many patients clearly show that empathy is not embedded across the health service. Simultaneously, burnout is becoming endemic among healthcare practitioners, with the devastating effects of the pandemic on healthcare workers likely to remain long after COVID-19 is brought under control. The decline in empathy among healthcare students and practitioners isn’t just bad for patients – it’s bad for practitioners.
Fostering empathy and teaching compassionate leadership in our healthcare workforce will promote better clinical care for patients, a better working environment for our staff, and wellbeing for all. A coordinated, evidence-based and revolutionary programme of training at all levels, to nurture clinical empathy in a fractured and vulnerable workforce, has the potential to improve recruitment and retention, and ultimately provide patients with the continuity of care and truly empathic approach they deserve. Finally, the added value of human practitioners in the age of the Internet is precisely their ability to offer empathy; now is the right time to disrupt medical care in a revolutionary way.