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25 Jul 2016
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By Jean Shapcott
Apprentice (220 XP)
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Patient story 5.2: Lack of empathy

Patient story 5.2: Lack of empathy

What does empathy mean?  

Read this quote to see what empathy means to patients:

'The nurse, whose name I did not get sadly, was really lovely and accommodating. She gave me enough time to settle down and relax, which I really needed as I was so nervous I was in tears. She let my friend, who came with me, stay in the consulting room during the test. She really made it as easy an experience as possible for me. If you ask me what experience any trainee doctor, nurse or midwife needs, it would be to shadow this nurse and see how she engaged with the patient and made things as easy as possible and, of course, bantered with us all the while. The demonstration of kindness and compassion combined with effective and empathic communication skills, transformed a potentially frightening into a helpful clinical encounter.'

Now compare the above with the next scenario (taken from Patient Opinion)

'I am still devastated by my treatment at ******. When I talk about my time there, I cry. It was one week ago that I was discharged. I arrived on the Saturday referred from ********, where I had been treated with care and compassion, and left on the following Tuesday. I had two slipped discs and suspected CES [Cauda Equina Syndrome] and was in so much pain I couldn't walk at all. I was left in a nappy one time, I was helped to a commode during visiting time and had to use it behind the curtain whilst visitors could hear me. Patient dignity is last on the agenda. I was in pain and I was told it was not protocol to use the pain meds that I had been given at *******, so I spent the first two days literally sobbing in pain and no-one offered me any more. Staff were curt, brief, often rude.'

Could these experiences be any more contrasting. Take five minutes to consider these contrasts. What explanations might be given as to why some staff can be kind and communicate well whilst others reduce patients to tears?