How empathy can transform healthcare: Dr. Brian Goldman

ER physician Brian Goldman makes the case for kindness in his medical memoir that includes research suggesting an empathetic bedside manner can benefit patients and doctors.

'Lack of kindness is like the death of a thousand cuts,' says the ER physician

Dr. Brian Goldman is the host of CBC Radio's White Coat, Black Art and the author of The Power of Kindness: Why Empathy is Essential in Everyday Life. (HarperCollins/CBC)
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Originally published on April 24, 2018

When ER physician Brian Goldman was told his bedside manner was unkind, it changed him.

"When patients tell you you're incompetent, there's a good chance that they could be wrong but when they tell you that you're not kind, that hurts because they know kindness — everybody knows kindness," said the author of The Power of Kindness.

The encounter led the host of CBC's White Coat, Black Art on a quest to better understand what it means to be kind and empathetic.

That research took him all around the world and what he found is that kindness is powerful and transformative — and a lack of empathy has consequences on both the doctor and the patient.

They don't comply with their doctors recommendations ... if it's not handed to them kindly.- Dr. Brian Goldman

"When we aren't kind to somebody else, we walk away diminished emotionally, physically. Our heart rate goes up, our stress hormones go up, our blood pressure goes up," Goldman told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

He added that the same results occur in patients when receiving unkind care.

"I think that lack of kindness is like the death of a thousand cuts. And that's one of the reasons why people who are in high intensity jobs like being a paramedic or lawyer or whatever burnout in mid-career."

When doctors are less empathetic, Goldman said, their patients become less engaged, and less trusting.

"They don't comply with their doctors recommendations, their medications, their prescriptions, if it's not handed to them kindly, with empathy," he said.

Empathetic robots

In Japan, scientists are working on how humans can be more empathetic on a daily basis.

As part of his research, Goldman visited Japan to find out more about the robots, and androids that are being manufactured have empathy.

Erica is a robot who can have human like interactions with everyone she meets.

"From the moment I laid eyes on Erica she was a person," says Dr. Goldman. 1:39

"As Erica develops, she'll be able to listen to emotional tone and know whether you're happy or unhappy," Goldman told Tremonti.

He believes the most important secret to being kind and empathetic is to build in the time to listen and make space for people and their feelings.

Empowerment through pain

While some people are born empathetic, Goldman said, other people have it thrust upon them by circumstances, such as loneliness, deep disappointment, failure or shame.

"The most empowering thing I can say that comes out of the research I did for the book, and in my own life, is that if you have pain, use it," Goldman said.

"It will make you stronger and you will find people, you'll find your community — people who are going through the same thing you're going through. You can empathize with them because you have been there."

Goldman believes there's no losing to showing empathy because it comes back tenfold. The benefits of showing empathy will always have you walking away happy and satisfied, "in a way that you would not dream possible," he said.

"It's not hard to give yourself time to do it. But if you do, you will feel better and more fulfilled in your life, perhaps, than you have ever felt before."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.


This segment was produced by The Current's Julie Crysler.

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