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Is the Compassionate Doctor Fad Dangerous?


Posted on Nov 09, 2011

The New York Times featured an essay last week by a physician concerned about the recent emphasis on compassionate doctors. She calls it a "fad" and wonders whether empathy really does equate to better healthcare.

The University of Chicago Medical Center was recently granted $42 million to develop a new program bettering their student body's doctor-patient skills. Many med schools are already denying entry to applicants who do not communicate well. Recently also, the licensing test for physicians requires medical students to take a "clinical skills" exam, which includes, "How well they acknowledge patient concerns, ask about feelings and show empathy."

Dr. Lisa Rosenbaum wonders whether this new emphasis on compassion will come at the expense of competence.

After all, there has yet to be any published connection between good communicative skills and outcomes. An introverted, yet conscientious physician may well be less prone to making mistakes. We do, however, have a study out of the University of Pennsylvania, which determined that extroverts tend to be more competitive with colleagues and their excessive competition undermined the productivity of medical teams. This is in contrast with introverts, who tend to be better listeners.

Dr. Rosenbaum asks whether this dearth of statistics on the benefits of compassion is not worthy of a second look as the medical community plunges into its newest fad.

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