Skip Navigation LinksHome > August 2014 - Volume 89 - Issue 8 > E.M.P.A.T.H.Y.: A Tool to Enhance Nonverbal Communication B...
Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000287
Perspectives

E.M.P.A.T.H.Y.: A Tool to Enhance Nonverbal Communication Between Clinicians and Their Patients

Riess, Helen MD; Kraft-Todd, Gordon

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Abstract

There is a gap in the medical education literature on teaching nonverbal detection and expression of empathy. Many articles do not address nonverbal interactions, instead focusing on “what to say” rather than “how to be.” This focus on verbal communication overlooks the essential role nonverbal signals play in the communication of emotions, which has significant effects on patient satisfaction, health outcomes, and malpractice claims. This gap is addressed with a novel teaching tool for assessing nonverbal behavior using the acronym E.M.P.A.T.H.Y.—E: eye contact; M: muscles of facial expression; P: posture; A: affect; T: tone of voice; H: hearing the whole patient; Y: your response. This acronym was the cornerstone of a randomized controlled trial of empathy training at Massachusetts General Hospital, 2010–2012. Used as an easy-to-remember checklist, the acronym orients medical professionals to key aspects of perceiving and responding to nonverbal emotional cues. An urgent need exists to teach nonverbal aspects of communication as medical practices must be reoriented to the increasing cultural diversity represented by patients presenting for care. Where language proficiency may be limited, nonverbal communication becomes more crucial for understanding patients’ communications. Furthermore, even in the absence of cultural differences, many patients are reluctant to disagree with their clinicians, and subtle nonverbal cues may be the critical entry point for discussions leading to shared medical decisions. A detailed description of the E.M.P.A.T.H.Y. acronym and a brief summary of the literature that supports each component of the teaching tool are provided.

© 2014 by the Association of American Medical Colleges

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