Empathy's dividends

November 29, 2011 

The Nov. 22 article by Lisa Rosenbaum, M.D., apologizing to the medical profession for her overabundance of empathy, made me cringe. As a lawyer who has represented doctors and hospitals in medical malpractice cases, I have seen too many occasions where my clients' deficits in empathy, communication and relationships caused bad outcomes or directly provoked lawsuits.

The decisions by medical schools to encourage what patients call "bedside manner" is a welcome advancement. But the effort should go farther, to reach practicing physicians so that they too can learn how empathy and effective communication can lead to better patient care and to protection from lawsuits.

Rosenbaum's article [reprinted from The New York Times] shows the size of the task. When the existing medical culture lauds aloofness and demeans empathy and effective communication, the result is dangerous to patient and physician.

Empathy and effective communication are skills, as are knowledge of anatomy and ability to determine appropriate treatment. The question is not whether these educational changes will bring unwanted consequences but instead whether, in the face of ever-increasing costs, we can afford to see physicians who deliberately encounter their patients with one hand tied behind their backs.

Charlie Madison,

Raleigh

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