Bi-Directional Empathy in Healthcare

Our co-founder, Christine Bechtel, was recently a guest on Anita Nowak’s Purposeful Empathy podcast, where she discussed the importance of patient/clinician relationships, and how they can be improved using experiences like 3rd Conversation. Below are some select quotes from the episode:


On why the patient/clinician relationship has eroded


“It’s about productivity; it’s about how many people can you see in a day; it’s I’ve got to get to the next thing.
That has really eroded the relationship between physician and patient, and yet we know from medical literature that that relationship is not only the vehicle for empathy, but it is also something that is hugely professionally rewarding for doctors and it contributes a lot to better health outcomes for patients.”

On what inspired her to start 3rd Conversation


“We realized there are two totally different conversations: the patients are over here on one side saying ‘oh my gosh, this health care system is so frustrating, so hard to navigate’ or ‘oh, I finally had a great experience; I found a great doctor’ and then it’s the doctors and other health care providers in totally separate conversations, saying ‘I’m exhausted; this is such a hard system to work within, this is not what I signed up for, this is not why I went to medical school.’
We realized they both were suffering from some of the same problems within the same system that they’re working in, and they don’t talk to each other. We asked ourselves what would happen if we just asked them to sit down and have a conversation.”

On why 3rd Conversation works


“We use a lot of non-violent communication tactics, which is about really listening deeply and helping people in both roles feel seen, heard, and understood.”
“The science of empathy tells us that when you can create those ‘aha’ moments where you finally understand the other person, it almost always sparks a desire to also help that other person.”
“We pull together that systems-level thinking that comes out of appreciative inquiry with those moments of individual empathy and help participants really describe a system that is different and is meeting their collective needs.”

On the impact of 3rd Conversation


“The impacts that we are learning about from our participants – one is that the experience itself is healing, it is a relief, and it helps address their burnout…..if we can help individuals feel some relief from that burnout, that’s huge.”
“It also helps improve patients’ experiences in health care, in the sense that health care providers make a lot of assumptions….one of the gifts of empathy is that it helps us dismantle or unpack those assumptions about each other, and it’s also really dismantling the us versus them mentality that is so endemic to health care.”
“I think probably the greatest potential [for 3C impact] is using it as almost like a primer, or catalyst. for that bigger, harder work….Creating those moments of bi-directional empathy is going to supercharge your efforts.”

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