Does your doctor seem to shrug off your concerns when You’re trying to describe some serious symptoms you’ve been having? Sometimes, he/she can even make you feel like you’re overreacting or exaggerating, which can leave you feeling frustrated and, more importantly, without the proper medical care.
Doctors have seen it all, and they hear countless complaints every day, so who can blame them for becoming a little emotionally detached? Nevertheless, empathy (the ability to understand what others are feeling and to put yourself in their place) is considered to be an absolutely essential trait in a good doctor.
Well, lately drug companies and researchers have been coming up with creative ways to show physicians just what their patients might be going through. These projects, which range from the high-tech (e.g. virtual reality) to the low-tech (using just a few props), are proving to be quite effective so far.
For example, a team of scientists from a Swedish university has developed the “Stroke Simulator.” This virtual reality (VR) simulator offers the sensory experience of having suffered a stroke and having to function in your home afterwards.
The participant experiences blurred vision, limited peripheral view, muscular weakness, etc. — which are many of the debilitating features of this condition. If you haven’t suffered a stroke, you really have no idea of how disorienting and aggravating the aftereffects can be. But now it’s possible to find out.
A similar device is the “Heart FX Pod,” which was developed the drug giant AstraZeneca. This machine does not use VR but actually causes physical sensations that mimic the distressing symptoms of heart failure, such as breathing problems, difficulty doing any physical work (such as simply walking), and an overworked heart. This device is currently on tour, bringing the experience of heart failure to doctors and nurses across the country.
There are other such projects for different conditions, such as blindness, schizophrenia, and dementia. All of these simulations, whether they’re high-tech or not, have the same goal: improving the overall experience for the patient.
Quite often, when a person has suffered a stroke, or is in the beginnings of heart failure, it’s not easy to tell exactly what’s going on. As the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Everyone hears only what he understands.” If a doctor can truly understand how a patient experiences certain illnesses, then he/she is more likely to recognize the symptoms.
If they are able to listen and empathize, it’s reasonable to assume that the patient will receive the proper treatment, including testing and medication, rather than just going away disgruntled. So, greater empathy leads to understanding, which leads to better medical care — and who wouldn’t want that?