Can emotional exhaustion be a contributing factor to physicians who are struggling with showing patients they understand and care during examinations?
I had the pleasure to coach a physician who was trying to improve his patient communication skills. He was perplexed because a patient and family member wrote a letter complaining he was rude, wasn’t understanding and caring, and asked inappropriate questions during the examination. From the physician’s point of view, he performed a thorough examination and asked necessary questions.
Together we reviewed his patient-physician interaction, the questions, and the techniques used to help the patient and family member feel at ease during the visit. Our review yielded that physician was technically proficient. He admitted that after 35 years of solid physician service and practice, his emotional intelligence skills have weakened as now he is more focused on meeting the hospital’s financial goals. He admitted he rarely expresses empathy and compassion when interacting with his patients however, he felt a thorough examination shows he cares.
Emotional Exhaustion Leads to Less Understanding and Caring
Physicians can feel emotionally exhausted from providing care for others. In the example above, he is finding it difficult to listen to the recurring trauma and drama that patients bring to each visit. In addition, he is tired of seeing repeat patients who rarely follow the prescribed care plan.
I have found many seasoned physicians begin to shut down their emotional intelligence when they are emotionally exhausted and under stress to provide the highest quality of care within the strict boundaries of the patient’s insurance plan. Physicians often become exhausted from fighting the healthcare and insurance systems while trying to achieve the hospitals leader’s financial goals.
I am seeing more physicians under pressure to meet hospital goals while feeling emotionally disconnected to their true calling, “to care for people”. Many physicians report that they rarely feel that hospital leaders understand and care about the physician team. Often, the sense in the hospital environment is to focus on achieving financial goals and less about caring about the physicians needs as a healthcare professional.
Emotional Intelligence and Patients
According to Daniel Goldman, emotional intelligence guru, emotional intelligence is described as the ability to recognize, manage, understand, influence, and utilize emotions when interacting with people (http://www.danielgoleman.info/emotional-intelligence-customer-care/). Goldman suggests emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned and everyone has the potential to improve his or her emotional intelligence capacity.
I have found from shadowing and coaching physicians that they can improve their emotional intelligence skills and achieve double digits gains in patient perception of their doctor being “understanding and caring”. I have found it is worth the investment to coach and refresh emotional intelligence skills in all areas of the hospital system.
7 Techniques to Improve Understanding and Caring
- Observing the patient is changing emotions during the examination.
- By observing the patient’s changing emotions the physician can anticipate the patient’s anxiety or fear.
- Validate the patient’s feelings and use empathetic language and respond to concerns and questions.
- Use emotional questions and statements such as, “How can I help you feel more comfortable?”
- Anticipate the patient’s concerns, worry, fear, anxiety and pain.
- Be aware of the body language used when questioning, explaining treatments and tests, and when discussing care plans.
- Tailor your words and behaviors to the needs of the patient because every patient is unique.
Service Excellence and Emotional Intelligence
Service excellence starts with the hospital leadership team. Generally, the hospital leaders create the culture for service excellence in the organization through their words and actions. Hospital leaders want their patients to receive safe, quality and supportive care from a team of healthcare professionals. Physicians want hospital leaders to understand and care about their wellbeing as a healthcare professional in a stressful environment. At the end of the day, physicians and patients have similar communication needs.
Service excellence is achievable and sustainable when hospital leaders place equal importance on both service excellence and emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is about understanding, recognizing, managing, and influencing emotions when interacting with people. Emotional intelligence skills can be used to improve patient-centered care, physician engagement and teamwork.
Dr. Wendy Perrell, EdD has developed emotional intelligence scripting to help physicians begin to ask questions that allow for more open-ended answers. As well as, scripts of how to respond the patient’s personal drama. Please feel free to email Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy.