Derksen, F.A.W.M., Olde Hartman, T.C., Bensing, J., Lagro-Janssen, A.
Empathy in general practice—the gap between wishes and reality: comparing the views of patients and physicians.
Family Practice, 35 (2018) 2, p. 203-208.
Background. Empathy is regarded by patients and general practitioners (GPs) as fundamental
in patient–GP communication. Patients do not always experience empathy and GPs encounter
circumstances which hamper applying it.
Objective. To explore why receiving and offering empathy during the encounter in general practice does not always meet the wishes of both patients and GPs.
Method. A qualitative research method, based on focus group interviews with patients and indepth interviews with GPs, was carried out. Within the research process, iterative data collection and analysis were applied.
Results. Both patients and GPs perceive a gap between what they wish for with regard to
empathy, and what they actually encounter in general practice. Patients report on circumstances which hamper receiving empathy and GPs on circumstances offering it. Various obstacles were mentioned: (i) circumstances related to practice organization, (ii) circumstances related to patient–GP communication or connectedness, (iii) differences between the patient’s and the GP’s expectations, (iv) time pressure and its causes and (v) the GP’s individual capability to offer empathy.
Conclusion. When patients do not receive empathy from their GP or practice staff, they feel frustrated.
This causes a gap between their expectations on the one hand and their actual experiences on the other. GPs generally want to incorporate empathy; the GP’s private, professional and psychological well-being appears to be an important contributing factor in practicing empathy in daily practice.
But they encounter various obstacles to offer this. It is up to GPs to take responsibility for showing practice members the importance of an appropriate empathical behaviour towards patients. (aut. ref.)