Presenters: Sarah Gustafson, MD, Lee Engelbreth, MD, and Mallory Logsdon, DO
This PHM 2023 session focused on modeling empathy in difficult clinical situations. The presenters introduced a framework called LEARN to guide medical professionals in effectively demonstrating empathy when dealing with patients and families. LEARN stands for Listen, Empathize, Acknowledge, Respect, and Next Steps.
The session opened with a discussion on the concept of the art of medicine and the challenge of understanding what makes certain patient interactions more successful than others. The presenters drew parallels between art and empathy, emphasizing the importance of forming emotional connections and bonds with patients. The definition of empathy was explored, going beyond a simple understanding of another’s feelings, to connecting with their emotions and using that understanding to guide actions.
The need for empathy in medical practice was highlighted, with its positive impact on patient outcomes, satisfaction, adherence to treatment plans, and even health care provider wellness. The presenters acknowledged that while empathy is important, it must be used thoughtfully, as overextending oneself can lead to negative consequences.
The LEARN framework was then introduced, with each step explained in detail using examples:
- Listen—stressed the importance of active listening, allowing silence for reflection, and using open-ended questions to encourage patients and parents to express their concerns.
- Empathize—emphasized understanding and validating patients’ and parents’ emotions, naming feelings, and sharing values.
- Acknowledge—encouraged acknowledging parent concerns, advocating for their child, and even apologizing for frustrations or challenges.
- Respect—involved showing respect for parents’ opinions, including cultural differences, and valuing their expertise as parents.
- Next Steps—focused on collaborating with patients and parents, involving them in the decision-making process, and reflecting with colleagues to ensure effective communication.
Throughout the session, the presenters engaged the audience with a case study involving a three-week-old baby experiencing failure to thrive and the hesitance of the parents regarding a nasogastric feeding tube. The attendees provided examples of how to apply the LEARN framework to effectively communicate empathy and address the family’s concerns.
The session concluded by inviting attendees to use the provided toolkit for further guidance and incorporating the LEARN framework into their medical practice. Attendees were encouraged to provide feedback to improve the toolkit and share their experiences with the framework’s implementation.
- Empathy provides a way for medical providers to connect with patients and how they interact with the health care system, leading to positive health care outcomes through increased adherence to treatment plans, and increased provider wellness through relationship building.
- Modeling empathy is an easy and effective way to teach this skill to learners.
- The LEARN model (Listen, Empathize, Acknowledge, Respect, Next steps) is an easy-to-remember framework for modeling empathy; LEARN for your learners!
Dr. Tran (@PatriciaTranMD) is an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria, Ill., and a pediatric hospitalist at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, Ill. She serves as a steering committee member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ section on hospital medicine’s women in PHM subcommittee, social media co-chair of the PHM conference, and digital media fellow of the Journal of Hospital Medicine.