A Definition and Key Features of Empathy in Patient Care
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Empathy in patient care is addressed in this chapter in the context of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of health and with regard to the notion of a biopsychosocial paradigm of illness. I define empathy in the context of patient care as a predominantly cognitive attribute that involves an understanding of the patient’s experiences, concerns, and perspectives, combined with a capacity to communicate this understanding. I then elaborate on the importance of the three key features (cognition, understanding, and communication) used in the definition of empathy and suggest that in the context of patient care, it is important to distinguish between cognition and emotion, between understanding and feeling, and between empathy and sympathy because of their different effects in patient outcomes. An abundance of empathic engagement, I suggest, is always beneficial in the context of patient care, whereas excessive sympathetic involvement can be detrimental to both the physician and the patient. I also maintain that to achieve positive patient outcomes, communication of understanding in empathic engagement between physician and patient must be reciprocal, confirming the patient’s significant role in the outcome of patient care.
KeywordsPatient Relationship Empathic Understanding Reciprocal Feedback Positive Patient Outcome Emotional Overinvolvement
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