The study defined empathy as, " the identification with and understanding of another person's situation and feelings (and) is considered an important element of communication between patients and physicians and is associated with improved patient satisfaction and compliance with recommended treatment."
The results from the study showed that of 384 "empathic" moments, doctors were only empathic 39 times, a mere10%.
Here is one example of where a doctor missed using empathy skills:
Patient: I don't know what the average person does in just two year, three years, a year?
Physician: I think that . . . you certainly could live two or three years. I think it would be very unlikely . . . But I would say that an average figure would be several months to a year to a little bit more.
Though this study was small, consisting of 20 recorded and transcribed consultations, this is likely a scenario carried often. I bring this up, because I'm sure we have all run into a doctor or two who just did not have empathy skills and seemed to not care about our concerns. Some doctors are completely ignorant and make stupid remarks, but they're in a completely different category. For the most part, I've been pretty lucky to have physicians be concerned about me, but I've definitely had those that had horrible bedside manners, were completely ignorant, or didn't listen at all. They don't make you feel entirely secure about the medical profession as a whole. (but of course, there are those standouts that make a difference too)
The thing is, even with the hassles of insurance and time constraints, it doesn't take a doctor or anyone alike long to make a simple remark of concern about you, the patient. Sometimes, it's just comforting to know they are listening and for maybe a moment can feel what it is like to be in your shoes.
In another recent commentary in JAMA, there is a suggestion for training young doctors to have more emotional intelligence, the abilities to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions. While some doctors don't agree with the value of emotional intelligence, other research has showed its effectiveness in improving empathy skills among medical students.
In the end, whether it is a physician or another professional, communication skills are important for you to receive the appropriate care and treatment. This includes both the textbook knowledge as well as understanding emotions and empathy. A dose of concern certainly helps and can go a long way.