The physician-patient relationship is a crucial element in successful medical care. Empathy is the ability to understand an individual’s subjective experience yet remain as an observer. It plays a major role in establishing a good physician-patient relationship.
The aim of this study was to evaluate the perspectives of patients and their corresponding emergency physicians regarding physicians’ empathy levels and to extract themes that both patients and their doctors considered as important for an empathic encounter.
This is a qualitative study conducted at a Middle Eastern tertiary care centre Emergency Department (ED) using in-depth semi-structured interviews administered to each participating patient and his/her corresponding ED physician. Empathy-related themes were identified using inductive thematic analysis.
This study shows that both patients and physicians believe in the importance of empathy in the ED based on four major themes: emotions, interpersonal skills, time and chief complaint. Time and the chief complaint were perceived as barriers by physicians, but not by their patients.
A gap lies in the expressive communication phase of empathy between the two groups. The four major themes retrieved could form the basis of an empathy measure in the medical encounter in Lebanese and similar settings.
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