importance of empathy in healthcare

The Dangers Of Medical Gaslighting :The Importance Of Empathy In Healthcare

My family has a long standing relationship with hospitals thanks to bad genetics and an unhealthy lifestyle. This relationship is so familiar to me that the hospital kind of feels like my second home. I know, just like me, there are many people out there for whom trips to the hospital are as regular as brushing your teeth. For people like us, hospitals end up becoming safe spaces. 

Actually, scratch that, hospitals are supposed to be safe spaces for everyone irrespective of where they lie on the health scale. This is purely because of the nature of service provided and the medical conditions patients come in with. Doctors, nurses and other members of the staff are the ones to whom we turn to for comfort, explanation, understanding and reassurance when we come to a hospital.  Unfortunately, there are times when medical facilities are unable to be the safe space that their patients need them to be.

When we feel sick (even if it’s just the flu), we do not merely feel physically unwell but also emotionally drained (along with the characteristic brain fog). In this state of disorientation, the people who we know we can definitely count on are medical professionals. We depend on them to listen to us, understand us and give us the cure for our ailment. But what if that’s not the case? What if the doctor does not listen to you? What if they don’t provide you with the empathy and care that you require in the moment and instead blame you for your condition? However disheartening it may sound, this has been the reality for quite a few individuals. 

Individuals who live with PCOS have narrated incidents where gynecologists have fat-shamed them and suggested crash diets and intensive workouts as a solution. Patients have also received judgment for their sexual relationships and general lifestyle choices. There are instances when their symptoms of pain and discomfort have been trivialized and their overall experience with the ailment goes unheard by the medical professionals. Hospitals who are purely profit-oriented may sometimes even encourage their staff to prescribe tests and treatments that may not be necessary (or affordable) for their patients.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every medical professional fits the same template.

Just like any other field, there are some who are good at their job and others who could try to improve themselves. Undoubtedly, medical professionals are overburdened with the demands of their profession especially when a global pandemic hits the medical system. As patients, it is our responsibility to understand that the doctors may not immediately have the answers to every one of our concerns and we need to follow their advice as much as possible. We also need to understand that they may not always have the time for us because they have a personal life and come with their own challenges. However, as medical professionals, they have certain responsibilities towards the patients that go above and beyond the basic duty of treating their patients to the best of their ability. “Do no harm” should not only apply to the physical health of said patient, but also to their emotional health and socio-economic condition.

A medical situation becomes trickier when the patient is living with a mental health concern. Their complaints about their physical health may go unheard if the medical staff is looking at them through the lens of their mental ‘disorder’. It is important for everyone involved, medical team and caregivers, to listen to the patient as they would to anyone else. At the end of the day, they know their experiences best and deserve to be heard out before receiving the appropriate care. 

Yes, self-diagnosis is a dangerous practice and patients should trust the doctor to take care of the diagnostic and treatment process. But at the same time, only we know what’s happening with our body. Instead of respecting our account, if we are made to keep quiet or worse, blamed for the condition we are in, we may start questioning our realities. This act of questioning the self can make an individual delay seeking help or worse, not seek help at all, resulting in deteriorating health.

So, you see, in a way, doctors and therapists have a few common responsibilities towards the patient/client. Both need to provide a non-judgmental space and give their patient the necessary time to express themselves. They need to see the patient as more than the disease or the disorder, they need to see them as functioning human beings who just so happen to have experiences that are out of the ordinary. Most importantly, both need to believe in the inner strength and capability of the person they are treating. importance of empathy in healthcare

In conclusion, Carl Jung rightly said, “Medicines cure diseases, but only doctors can cure patients.”

importance of empathy in healthcare

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Our team is constantly learning, discussing and understanding human behaviour. We love understanding what makes people tick and identifying useful strategies to help them during sticky times.