Nurturing Humanity: The Heart of Healthcare

Global healthcare systems have gone through many reforms, advancements and improvements over the years. Throughout all these transformations, one thing has remained consistent – the vital role of empathy as a cornerstone in the provision of efficient healthcare to individuals and communities at large.

What is empathy?

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another; it is the capacity of putting one’s self in another’s shoes and feeling what the other person is going through. Hence, a healthcare provider with an empathetic heart will be able to recognise and validate a patient’s fear, anxiety, pain and worry. This will help them to understand their patients’ feelings and facilitate better diagnoses and patient-care.

According to Dr. Vasantha Priya Subramaniam, Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia’s (NUMed) Associate Professor (Clinical), “Humanism in Healthcare can be defined as holistic healing, meaning the healing of both mind and body. It is believed that healing of just the body is not enough, as the suffering a human undergoes during the disease stems from the feeling that he or she is isolated from other healthy humans. This is where empathy is important. The integrative holistic approach of treating the mind and body forms the basis for humanism.”

When a patient goes to see their healthcare provider, be it for severe illness, chronic diseases or a normal routine check-up, it is more often than not that they will feel emotions such as fear, anxiety and apprehension. Every patient will definitely want to receive the best care possible; a compassionate and empathetic healthcare team will help.

Empathy – is it essential?

Research has shown that empathy and compassion from the healthcare team are highly associated with better adherence to medications, decrease in malpractices and increased patient satisfaction. Therefore, expressing empathy can build the patient’s trust, calm their anxiety and improve their health outcomes.

However, as empathy in healthcare is often focused on the patients to a large extent, we often fail to look at things from the perspective of the frontliners in a healthcare team. Dr. Vasantha Priya stated that empathy and compassion need to be integrated into the basic framework of a healthcare system, and not just be limited to patients. This will help to build a strong trust and enhance teamwork.

As such, patients and their families should equally have empathetic hearts towards the frontliners. We never know what a person is going through, so our small actions will help in balancing and advancing humanism as well as promoting effective healthcare through empathy.

Does empathy contribute to a better healthcare system?

It is undeniable that we need a well-oiled healthcare system for the betterment of our society. ‘Efficiency, Equity and Effectiveness’ are the core values of quality healthcare. Integral in driving these values is empathy.

Efficiency deals with maximising productivity. Equity, on the other hand, requires the fair distribution of production, resources or services among an entire population in order for the healthcare system to be an inherently effective structure. Subsequently, empathy will widen the public’s access to healthcare, leading to an improved quality of life among all.

Clinical empathy in medical students?

Although empathy cannot be taught overtly, it is very much emphasised right from the start at NUMed. According to Dr. Vasantha Priya, the moment the student enters the school, he or she will be exposed to patient communication. This will involve varied strategies, including live demonstrations using simulated patients, preparing the students for real patient encounters in the future.

NUMed offers Foundation in Biological and Biomedical Sciences, BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences (BMS), and Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS).

With the university’s focus on a patient-centered education and access to local hospitals in the city, students at NUMed will have ample opportunities to gain valuable hands-on learning while acquiring the relevant knowledge needed for their degrees.

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