Empathy Mandate On Its Way


A recent study described here it the American Medical News is trying to show that doctors can learn empathy from a CD-ROM program. Personally, I this is just another exaggeration for a future product sale. The study examined how often oncologists empathize when patients relay feelings such as fear, sadness or distress. About 50 oncologists at two academic medical centers heard a one-hour lecture on communication skills.  They then had over 260 of their visits with patients recorded on audio and analyzed. Half of the oncologists also took a one-hour, computer-based tutorial that incorporated audio recordings of earlier patient visits and pointed out times when physicians could have done a better job of empathizing with their patients. The physicians who took the computer tutorial, provided on CD-ROM, were 30% likelier to make empathic statements during their visits with patients than those who didn’t take the tutorial.

Does that prove that the computer can teach teach us to be more human? No. It just shows that we all could use feedback from any source, even from ourselves. And since we physicians all have big egos and don’t trust the intentions of overbearing administrators, getting feedback and some learning via the CD-ROM is one good method to being a better doctor. That being said, the article goes on to say that “the financial stakes related to improving communication have risen, with more than 60% of health care organizations using patient satisfaction scores to determine physician bonus pay”. Now why did they have to go ahead and ruin it by bringing in the P4P crap? Now you are going to see this study being presented at some big annual administrator meeting and they will come back to their hospitals and demand all doctors go through this same CD-ROM experience. My point is not that we all can’t use some feedback and learn more empathy but that it leads to another “hoop” that doctors are made to jump through. This in turn leads to contempt and not empathy. As De Niro said as Jake LaMotta in the Raging Bull, “Don’t burn the steak! It defeats its own purpose!”.

Douglas Farrago MD

Douglas Farrago MD is a full-time practicing family doc in Forest, Va. He started Forest Direct Primary Care where he takes no insurance and bills patients a monthly fee. He is board certified in the specialty of Family Practice. He is the inventor of a product called the Knee Saver which is currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Knee Saver and its knock-offs are worn by many major league baseball catchers. He is also the inventor of the CryoHelmet used by athletes for head injuries as well as migraine sufferers. Dr. Farrago is the author of four books, two of which are the top two most popular DPC books. From 2001 – 2011, Dr. Farrago was the editor and creator of the Placebo Journal which ran for 10 full years. Described as the Mad Magazine for doctors, he and the Placebo Journal were featured in the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the AP, and the NY Times. Dr. Farrago is also the editor of the blog Authentic Medicine which was born out of concern about where the direction of healthcare is heading and the belief that the wrong people are in charge. This blog has been going daily for more than 15 years Article about Dr. Farrago in Doximity Email Dr. Farrago – [email protected]

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