Friday, 22 November 2013


empathy, n.
Pronunciation:  /ˈɛmpəθɪ/
The power of projecting one's personality into (and so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation.

Definition from the Oxford English Dictionary

Following on from my recent quality improvement blog, I've been thinking a lot about patient centredness and what patient centred care really means. I stated (probably more than was strictly necessary) that I believed that so long as we aimed to provide high quality patient care, quality improvement would naturally occur. I also used a definition of quality which included the term patient centred. I think, therefore, that it is pretty important to reflect on what patient centredness actually is.

I don't actually think patient centred care is a difficult concept. It's all about providing care which focuses on the patient and what they both want and need. What is trickier is working out how to go about actually doing this.

At this point, I'd like to share a favourite video of mine. It's from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and, like many things I am likely to blog about, I was first shown it during my MSc teaching. It is slightly "American" in tone, so for those of you who feel you'd prefer a "British" alternative, there is a very similar version produced by Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust. Both videos end with a quote: "If you knew how they felt, would you treat them differently?".

I don't know who first said "Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always" - it's been attributed to so many people, from Plato to the Dalai Lama. Regardless, I think it sums up the essence of those videos nicely. It is all too easy see a patient's illness in isolation, without considering what else may be happening in someones life. If you don't at least attempt to understand an illness in the context of a patient's wider life, how can you even attempt to work out what they want and need from their healthcare interaction?

I think that really, empathy is what patient-centred care is all about. The most important person in any healthcare setting is the patient. Empathy is a crucial quality for any healthcare professional to possess. Without it, ascertaining what a patient wants and needs (and therefore providing patient centred care) becomes almost impossible.

I'll end this post with a challenge: next time you're about to get frustrated with a patient who has turned up late to an appointment or not taken their medications as directed, just stop and think about what else could be going on in their lives.