(PHILADELPHIA) A paradigm shift in medical education is needed, one with more emphasis on training future physicians to enhance their empathy skills and to learn to view patients as persons, not just cases, a medical education specialist at Jefferson Medical College says.
"If we want to train physicians with more empathy, then education must shift from emphasizing only the biomedical to also providing a biopsychosocial framework, as well and a more complete picture of patients as persons," says Mohammadreza Hojat, Ph.D., research professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
According to Dr. Hojat, who has written a book, Empathy in Patient Care: Antecedents, Development, Measurement, and Outcomes, (Springer-Verlag 2007), much emphasis is placed today on the biomedical paradigm of health and illness, which is akin to treating the organ affected by disease rather than curing the patient's illness. "The thinking is, once you treat the organ, the patient is fine," he says. "This is a unidimensional approach to patient care. Health is not simply defined as absence of disease it encompasses the physical, mental and social well being of a person."
The book is aimed at physicians, medical students, residents, psychologists, clinical social workers and any other health professionals involved in patient care. It serves as a platform, he says, to discuss factors that contribute to empathy development, such as genetic, social and educational factors, and approaches to enhance empathy. Dr. Hojat is convinced that a caregiver's empathic abilities can influence how a patient fares. "It's important to consider the potential role of empathic ability in clinical outcome," he says. "When the patient feels the physician can understand him or her, that in itself seems to have a therapeutic effect."