Cancer doctors lack empathy for patients

Thursday, November 03, 2011 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: oncologists, empathy, health news

eTrust Pro Certified

Delicious Pin It
(NaturalNews) Treating cancer patients, who are suffering excruciating side effects from radiation and chemotherapy, is emotionally draining. But wouldn't you think someone who chose the profession of oncology would know this in advance and would have a lot of compassion for his or her patients? It turns out, that's not exactly true for many oncologists.

"Earlier studies have shown that oncologists respond to patient distress with empathy only about a quarter of the time," James A. Tulsky, M.D., director of the Duke Center for Palliative Care, said in a media statement. "Often, when patients bring up their worries, doctors change the subject or focus on the medical treatment, rather than the emotional concern. Unfortunately, this behavior sends the message, 'This is not what we're here to talk about.'"

In a new study just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Dr. Tulsky and his research team found that the use of a computer-based interactive training tool developed by Dr. Tulskey resulted in more empathic responses from oncologists. After the cancer doctors incorporated techniques they learned from the computerized training, their patients reported greater trust in their doctors which translated into a better quality of life for the cancer patients.

To test the new computer training's effectiveness, Dr. Tulsky and colleagues enrolled 48 doctors at Duke, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. They audio-recorded four to eight visits between the doctors and patients suffering from advanced cancer.

All the physicians then attended an hour-long lecture on communication skills. Next, half were randomly assigned to use the CD-ROM tutorial to learn empathy skills and the other half received no other training. The results of the study showed the CD taught the doctors how to recognize and respond when patients shared a negative emotion and how to communicate information about prognoses. They also received feedback on how they could improve their communication with cancer patients and were asked to commit to making changes in their practice to demonstrate more empathy.

Afterward, all the doctors were again recorded during patient visits and then both trained listeners and patients were asked to evaluate how well the doctors responded with empathy when faced with patient fears and questions. Oncologists who had taken the CD course responded empathetically twice as often as those with no training. They were also more like to promote conversations rather than to shut them down when patients tried to talk about concerns.

"Patient trust in physicians increased significantly," Dr. Tulsky said in the media statement. He explained that patients actually feel better when they believe their doctors are on their side. "This is exciting, because it's an easy, relatively inexpensive way to train physicians to respond the basic needs of a patient."

Learning empathy skills is "too expensive" and time consuming

In a press statement, Dr. Tulsky said the problem with oncologists not being empathetic is not that the doctors are uncaring, it's just that communication needs to be taught and learned." He then pointed out that the current gold standard for teaching oncologists empathy skills is a multi-day course that involves short lectures and role-playing with actors hired to simulate clinical situations.

The drawback is that these courses take up the doctors valuable time and are expensive, costing around $3,000 per physician. Dr. Tulsky's computer program, however, lets doctors complete empathy training in their offices or homes in a little more than an hour and at a cost of only about $100.

These factoids raise a couple of troublesome issues. First, why do so many physicians seem to lack the ability to express empathy, and to communicate in a caring way when seeing seriously ill patients? And, second, how can a $3,000 tax deductible course that teaches empathy skills be considered "too expensive" for oncologists? After all, these physicians typically make huge salaries. According to a report from the Medical Group Management Association, oncologists rank among the highest paying physician specialists, raking in about $ 500,000 a year.

The new CD course is not yet widely available to train oncologists on how to be more empathetic with patients, but Dr. Tulsky said efforts are underway to develop it for broader distribution.

Sources for this article include:



Get breaking news alerts on GMOs, fluoride, superfoods, natural cures and more...
Join over four million monthly readers. Email privacy 100% protected. Unsubscribe at any time.

Have comments on this article? Post them here:

comments powered by Disqus

Take Action: Support NaturalNews.com

Email this article to a friend

Permalink to this article:

Reprinting this article: Non-commercial use OK, cite NaturalNews.com with clickable link.

Embed article link: (copy HTML code below):
Most Popular
Today | Week | Month | Year

See all Top Headlines...


Now Available at ShopNaturalNews.com

O3 Essentials OraJuvenate™
A powerful, cleansing dental cream for maximum oral/dental health.
New Cancer Solutions
Over 3 hours of content covering today’s best cancer tests, how to kill cancer cells and the best diets and exercise routines.
Freeze-Dried 100% Organic Whole Corn
Our freeze-drying method preserves taste, texture and nutrients better than any other food preservation method ever invented.
Fenix TK35 Flashlight
Tough, waterproof, extremely bright and it’s touted to throw an 800+ lumen beam more than 1,000 feet into the night.
Inca Treasure Smoothie Pack
This pack of our four most popular superfoods from South America is the perfect combo pack for smoothie lovers.
Pink Himalayan Salt
This salt delivers significant levels of magnesium, zinc and selenium, with trace levels of dozens of other elements.
Pinhole Glasses - Aviator Style
Pinhole glasses are becoming famous for helping people improve their vision without the risks of laser surgery.
Oxy-Rich Facial Serum
O3 Essentials Jojoba Oxy-Rich Facial Serum is cellular nourishment for your skin. Helps smooth fine lines while enhancing tissue elasticity.
Freeze-Dried 100% Blackberry Halves
Our freeze-dried blackberry halves are grown in Serbia under strict organic standards.

Also on NaturalNews:

Health Ranger Videos
Activist music
CounterThink Cartoons
Food documentaries
FREE Special Reports
Colloidal Silver

Advertise with NaturalNews...

Support NaturalNews Sponsors:

Advertise with NaturalNews...

Most Popular Stories

Flu shot kills 19-year-old, but vaccine industry still has total immunity against lawsuits
Here's a nutty fact: Eating more tree nuts lowers the risk of all-cause death by up to 20 percent
Six important facts you're not being told about lost Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 now clearly a government cover-up: All evidence contradicts official story
10 other companies that use the same Subway yoga mat chemical in their buns
BLM fracking racket exposed! Armed siege and cattle theft from Bundy ranch really about fracking leases
High-dose vitamin C injections shown to annihilate cancer
U.S. treating meat with ammonia, bleach and antibiotics to kill the '24-hour sickness'
USDA to allow U.S. to be overrun with contaminated chicken from China
Vaccine fraud exposed: Measles and mumps making a huge comeback because vaccines are designed to fail, say Merck virologists
Battle for humanity nearly lost: global food supply deliberately engineered to end life, not nourish it
Diet soda, aspartame linked to premature deaths in women

25 Amazing Facts About Food

This FREE downloadable report unveils a collection of astonishing and little-known facts about the food we eat very day. Click here to read it now...


Resveratrol and its Effects on Human Health and Longevity - Myth or Miracle.

Unlock the secrets of cellular health with the "miracle" nutrient Resveratrol Click here to read it now...


Nutrition Can Save America

FREE online report shows how we can save America through a nutrition health care revolution. "Eating healthy is patriotic!" Click here to read it now...

The Healing Power of Sunlight and Vitamin D

In this exclusive interview, Dr. Michael Holick reveals fascinating facts on how vitamin D is created and used in the human body to ward off chronic diseases like cancer, osteoporosis, mental disorders and more. Click here to read it now...

Vaccines: Get the Full Story

The International Medical Council on Vaccination has released, exclusively through NaturalNews.com, a groundbreaking document containing the signatures of physicians, brain surgeons and professors, all of which have signed on to a document stating that vaccines pose a significant risk of harm to the health of children. Click here to read it now...

Health Ranger Storable Organics

GMO-free, chemical-free foods and superfoods for long-term storage and preparedness. See selection at www.StorableOrganics.com

Recommended Resources On:

Natural News trends
Health Ranger news
Natural News GMOs
Mike Adams tracker
Natural News photos
Natural News Global
Natural News in focus
Natural News connect
Natural News shocking stories
Natural News radar
Health freedom
Dr. Paul Offit

This site is part of the Natural News Network © 2014 All Rights Reserved. Privacy | Terms All content posted on this site is commentary or opinion and is protected under Free Speech. Truth Publishing International, LTD. is not responsible for content written by contributing authors. The information on this site is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice of any kind. Truth Publishing assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this material. Your use of this website indicates your agreement to these terms and those published here. All trademarks, registered trademarks and servicemarks mentioned on this site are the property of their respective owners.

eTrust Pro Certified Android app on Google Play

Sign up for the FREE Natural News Email Newsletter

Receive breaking news on GMOs, vaccines, fluoride, radiation protection, natural cures, food safety alerts and interviews with the world's top experts on natural health and more.

Join over 7 million monthly readers of NaturalNews.com, the internet's No. 1 natural health news site. (Source: Alexa.com)

Your email address *

Please enter the code you see above*

No Thanks

Already have it and love it!

Natural News supports and helps fund these organizations:

* Required. Once you click submit, we will send you an email asking you to confirm your free registration. Your privacy is assured and your information is kept confidential. You may unsubscribe at anytime.