Fixing the empathy gene, Part II

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Mary Gustafson, McKnight's Staff Writer
Mary Gustafson, McKnight's Staff Writer
If Bill Clinton added “M.D.” after his name, slung a stethoscope around his neck and started visiting the residents in your nursing facility, there's a chance that your residents might start feeling better — however briefly — new research suggests.

A study of Italian diabetics found that the patients of physicians who scored highly on tests measuring empathy had better outcomes than patients whose doctors were rated poorly on those tests. (The study did not say whether these successful docs deployed Clinton's famous charisma or trotted out his “I feel your pain” catchphrase.)

"Results of this study confirmed our hypothesis that a validated measure of physician empathy is significantly associated with the incidence of acute metabolic complications in diabetic patients, and provide the much-needed, additional empirical support for the beneficial effects of empathy in patient care," lead researcher Mohammadreza Hojat, Ph.D., concluded. (Click here for more about the study.)

Although the study didn't explore how empathy affects other clinical relationships, such as the one between nurses and skilled nursing facility residents, it's not much of a stretch to assume that empathy offered in any clinical setting is helpful.

By the time people become nursing home residents, they are likely to confront the reality that their health may never improve enough to leave their facility. And that makes having an empathetic caregiver even more important.

Like most people with chronic conditions, I've spent many years and a lot of money trying to find a doctor with a magic wand. I was always convinced that a new set of eyes was needed. But 20 years and almost as many physicians later, I've accepted that I may never find the perfect specialist. And that's O.K. Instead, I'm thrilled just to have a doctor that understands and listens to me and is open to my suggestions, too.

Having a medical professional validate your pain is the next best thing to actually curing it. And that's the primary job of anyone who works in a long-term care facility. Your job is to provide comfort and care while respecting your residents' dignity. And that can be a lot harder than it sounds.

So, you can tell your residents “I feel your pain,” all you want. But I'm pretty sure your residents can decide for themselves whether you actually mean it.

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McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.


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