Today’s blog post comes from Ann Wendel, PT. Ann is the owner of PranaPT, a member of WebPT, and an active Tweeter (@PranaPT). Thanks, Ann!

The theme for this month on the WebPT blog is innovation, and they’ve been highlighting new ideas for business, technology, products, and marketing. As I thought about innovative concepts in physical therapy, I was brought back to an old concept: empathy.

Empathy has been defined as the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being. The English word is derived from the Greek word ἐμπάθεια (empatheia), "physical affection, passion, partiality," which comes from ἐν (en), "in, at" + πάθος (pathos), "passion" or "suffering.” Hermann Lotze and Robert Vischer adapted the term to create the German word Einfühlung ("feeling into"), which Edward B. Titchener then translated into the English term “empathy.” (Source: Wikipedia)

What initially drew me to the profession of physical therapy as a high school freshman was the combination of art and science. I briefly considered medical school, but quickly decided that I wanted to spend time with my patients and develop a relationship that didn’t seem possible in the confines of a five- to ten-minute office visit every few months.

I entered physical therapy school not long after the advent of managed care and insurance restrictions. I graduated when it was still possible to spend at least 30 minutes treating a patient and listening to their concerns. Over the past 15 years that I have practiced as a physical therapist, I have watched the science aspect grow to overshadow the art of our profession. Thus, physical therapy became a “doctoring profession” and insurance restrictions led to decreased time spent with patients.

I am thrilled with the emphasis on evidence-based medicine, and I am grateful for colleagues that challenge my thinking and help me grow. I know the benefits of tracking outcomes and the necessity of outcomes for justification for care. These are the best aspects of evidence-based care, and yet, I fear that as we become more focused on evidence and outcomes, we also become less focused on the art of providing care. I would hate to see this happen to my chosen profession.

We are in a position to provide quality, evidence-based care combined with empathy. Even in the current healthcare climate, therapists spend more time with their patients than any other healthcare provider. We need to preserve the art of listening with empathy and providing care that honors the patient’s feelings and goals.

A recent article in the March American College of PhysiciansInternist Journal highlighted the findings from several studies on the topic of empathy in medicine. One study of 242 Italian primary care physicians and 20,961 diabetic patients, which was published in the September 2012 issue of Academic Medicine, found that patients whose physicians scored highly on an empathy test had significantly fewer acute diabetes complications.

Mohammadreza Hojat, PhD, a study coauthor, stated that empathy “involves an attempt to understand the patient as opposed to an attempt to feel for the patient, which is sympathy. A capacity to communicate this understanding combined with an intention to help is part of the definition.” Hojat also noted that “curiosity is an important component of empathy in medicine; curiosity grounded in concern or respect for the patient.” When we engage with our patients, we can develop an understanding of them as people and anticipate their behavior. This is especially helpful when treating patients who are dissimilar to us in age, gender, culture, or socioeconomic status.

Here are a few concrete suggestions for conveying the empathy that you hopefully already have for your patients:

  • Recognize when you are distancing yourself from the patient because of beliefs that healthcare providers should be detached. Make an effort to connect in a professional way.
  • Be aware of frustrations and prejudices that may arise when interacting with a patient who is different than you in any way (beliefs, culture, language, etc.). Connect with him or her on a human level.
  • Express curiosity and interest by asking the patient “How are you?” or “What’s going on?” You can listen to the patient’s concerns while you work, allowing him or her to feel “heard.”
  • Use non-verbal communication that signals interest and respect.
  • Make every attempt to avoid interrupting the patient, unless it is for the purpose of gently leading him or her back to the question you need answered.
  • Make the most out of the time you have with your patients. Let them know you are concerned for their well-being and that you understand their challenges.

Innovation and change are necessary for moving forward as a profession, but we need to remember the importance of good old-fashioned empathy in building positive relationships and working toward successful outcomes with our patients.

Ditch the Donuts: Referral Marketing Strategies that Actually Work - Regular BannerDitch the Donuts: Referral Marketing Strategies that Actually Work - Small Banner
  • articleJul 9, 2013 | 9 min. read

    Four Critical Rebranding Concepts

    #BrandPT . If you're not part of this discussion, you should be—regardless of whether you’re a physical therapist, occupational therapist, another allied health rehab therapy professional, personal trainer, physician, dentist, or nurse. Why? Because the #BrandPT Twitter discussion revolves around empowering an important segment of the healthcare industry—physical therapists—and thus empowers the entire industry as a whole.   However, this post really isn't about #BrandPT specifically. It has to do with the overall mission to rebrand the …

  • articleSep 15, 2013 | 4 min. read

    Use Promotional Products to Grow your Business and Boost Referrals

    Today's blog post comes from Tom Killingsworth, owner of Hadley Promotions in Phoenix, Arizona. Visit him on LinkedIn , or email him questions at  tom@hadleypromotions.com . Thanks, Tom! Rehab therapists should continually market their services to stay top-of-mind with current and potential customers as well as referring physicians. One way to do so is through promotional marketing. As the owner of a company that provides imprinted products and branded merchandise and apparel (with many customers who are …

  • Six Steps for PTs Considering Crowd-Funding Image

    articleMay 14, 2014 | 8 min. read

    Six Steps for PTs Considering Crowd-Funding

    Your next-generation rehab tool is poised to be a big hit in the market, but you can’t construct a prototype because you are maxed out on credit cards. You’re looking to expand your practice to a second location and are on a capital campaign to secure the lease and fund the build-out. Maybe you’re simply trying to purchase a much-needed piece of equipment for you clinic, but the bank isn’t extending your business’s line of credit. What …

  • articleSep 16, 2013 | 4 min. read

    #BrandPT: Behind the Challenge

    In my last WebPT blog post, I discussed #BrandPT . This served as the basis for my next idea: a weekly branding challenge on social media. I developed this idea after realizing that physical therapists need to take more widespread advantage of social media in a couple of key marketing areas: consumer engagement, active market survey, and closing the brand image/identity gap.   With this challenge, my hopes were: that physical therapists and consumers would develop an …

  • The Case for Cooperation (Not Competition) Among PTs Image

    articleAug 1, 2016 | 7 min. read

    The Case for Cooperation (Not Competition) Among PTs

    A few years ago, WebPT President Heidi Jannenga wrote a Founder Letter about the importance of targeted physical therapy marketing strategies—specifically, branding the PT profession as a whole. In it, she encouraged practitioners to think bigger than themselves as individuals: “Before we can market our individual practices—or our individual specialties—we first must identify who we are as a profession and how the services we provide benefit our current and prospective patients,” she wrote. “We must brand...PT.” And …

  • articleSep 24, 2012 | 5 min. read

    Marketing the PT Profession

    Today’s blog post comes from  Ann Wendel ,  PT.  Ann is the owner of PranaPT , a member of WebPT, and an active social media participant (@PranaPT). Thanks, Ann! In keeping with this month’s theme of marketing physical therapy as a profession, I wanted to share the three things that I believe lead to success with any endeavor. There are many different ways to market, but if you want your campaign to have impact, you need to …

  • articleSep 5, 2013 | 3 min. read

    Annual PT Assessments: Get On Deck

    Today’s blog post comes from Alex Altamiranda, clinical director at Fyzical in Sarasota, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @SportsDPT .   At this year’s APTA conference in Salt Lake City, the House of Delegates adopted a new vision for the physical therapy profession: “Transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience." One way that PTs can begin to “optimize movement” is to promote the need for annual physical therapy assessments. This is one of the …

  • How to Get More New Patients Without Spending a Dime Image

    articleAug 18, 2017 | 6 min. read

    How to Get More New Patients Without Spending a Dime

    When you’re trying to get more of the stuff you need, sometimes all you have to do is ask . But shy of affecting a Dickensian persona and approaching referral sources with your hat in hand, you may not know what sort of strategy you should employ to get more patients into your clinic. The fact is, word-of-mouth advertising has been proven to boost marketing effectiveness by up to 54%. The message is clear: word-of-mouth is must …

  • How to Take Over the Internet: 5 Simple Strategies to Win More Patients Image

    webinarFeb 27, 2015

    How to Take Over the Internet: 5 Simple Strategies to Win More Patients

    Nowadays, everyone is looking for a way to “go viral” online. But with all that go-big-or-go-home hype, it’s easy to get intimidated—and that leaves many small business owners wondering if they have the time, resources, or wherewithal to even make a dent in the Internet, let alone break it.  Don’t get stuck in the muck and mire of cliché goals; you don’t have to hit a million views to make a big impact online. As a private …

Achieve greatness in practice with the ultimate EMR for PTs, OTs, and SLPs.