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A physician empathy project helps him get to know patients beyond their charts

Your doctor probably has a good idea of ​​your medical history. But how well do you know her as a person?

A doctor in Westmoreland County has found a creative way to explore the doctor-patient relationship beyond the exchange of symptoms and conditions.

Dr. Howard Grill, cardiologist at Excela Health, is the creator of the Empathy project. Last year, as part of the project, he began taking portraits of willing patients and making short interviews in which participants share parts of their life stories – such as where they were born or what they did for their work.

"I wanted to try to figure out what makes some patients tick and what their stories are," Grill said. "And I think that's something that would help me and other doctors to better deal with our patients."

That sounds like something Every doctor should want But it turns out that as a group they are probably ready to improve their manners at the bedside.

Bob Arnold, director of the Institute for Patient-Doctor Communication at the University of Pittsburgh, said much of the research in this area has been collected over the past 15 years, but it has already provided some clear insights.

"We would think that doctors who are really smart and highly educated would communicate well with patients," Arnold said. "In fact, what the research has shown in the first 10 years has been the shortcomings and limitations of our interactions."

For example, doctors were inclined to interrupt patients or to use a language they did not understand

"[And] Doctors have not paid much attention to the emotional aspects of the patients' experience," Arnold said ,

These emotional aspects are exactly what Grill is interested in an example of where a patient might be afraid of a diagnostic procedure called cardiac catheterization or "heart catheterization" because they happen to have a friend who did it and died because of complications.

"If that's their inner fear, you could not tell them that they have chest pains, they could not tell you they're out of breath," Grill said.

Of course these are things that Grill needs to know as a cardiologist to do his job.

"But once you get to know them and build a sense of trust with them, you may be able to alleviate their fears," Grill said. "Because it might turn out that her buddy who died after the cardiac catheterization had something completely different from her, or maybe it was not related to the Cath, maybe it was related to the underlying heart disease, the underlying problem.

Gerard Eyth, a blacksmith of Jones Mills, Pa., Who participated in the project, usually said a conversation with a doctor tends to be almost like a business conversation.

"And this is Dr Grill, you know, it's not like a doctor's appointment when I go there, it's like I see a buddy," Eyth said.

Arnold said that this type of project could also help others

"It will also improve the experience for the clinician … One of the things in medicine that presents a big problem is doctors and nurses [feeling] burned out of their work, and one of the ways you can build resilience [making] makes the work more meaningful, "said Arnold.

Grill agreed that the experience was also very positive for him.

"It's very refreshing to be able to interact with patients in a way that is very clinical," Grill said.

Today, Excela Health The Latrobe site hosts an empathy project exhibition. The portraits of the participants hang framed against the wall, and a press of a button will reproduce the tone of their interview from a speaker.

Grill said he plans to continue to interview patients and hopes one day to be able to package this experience patient communication teaching material for young physicians.

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