It has long been touted that healthcare providers need to have empathy towards their patients, as this will help them to establish good relations with them. Additionally, knowing and understanding how a patient feels has been found to enhance certain aspects in the treatment process. Empathy has also been tied to other positive effects, such as greater patient satisfaction as well as better treatment results and patient outcomes.

The need for empathy in patient care has caused it to be an area of great focus in the medical industry; this can be seen in the empathy training programmes that many medical schools and institutions have put in place. However, it is crucial for healthcare providers to note that they must also avoid having overwhelming empathy for their patients, as this could impede the delivery of quality medical care.

Excessive empathy affects judgement and focus

Without a doubt, empathy is a characteristic associated with many other positive values, and it is also completely natural to tend to care for and be concerned about others. However, empathy can have negative consequences if doctors lack the ability to utilise it effectively in patient care. Going overboard with empathy can result in skewed judgement, which is a dangerous thing.

Continuous exposure to others’ suffering is often linked to negative results such as burnout, compassion fatigue, distress, and an increased risk of medical errors. Doctors with excessive empathy towards their patients risk forming a strong emotional attachment, which consequently heightens the risk of making wrong judgements and rash decisions with regards to treatment, possibly in the name of 'saving their lives'. It would be difficult to see things from an objective standpoint, which would impair the ability to make sound and unbiased decisions.

Healthcare providers may face psychological distress and mental fatigue

While it is good for a healthcare provider to be able to feel for the patient and understand what the patient is going through from an emotional standpoint, doing so excessively may cause the healthcare provider to lose his or her sense of self and composure, facing immense emotional and mental stress. This would consequently lead to burnout, and negatively impact the medical care that is provided to the patient.

Additionally, even when healthcare providers are dealing with patients who have gone through much physical pain, empathy must not be extended to the point where they themselves go through mental turmoil. Many healthcare providers are already facing much physical and mental stress due to a hectic work schedule; being unable to handle their emotions will prevent the professional handling of any decision-making.

Too much of anything is possible to become a bad thing, and this applies to empathy as well. However, healthcare providers need to strike a balance – they should never be cold, mean and distant towards their patient, but cannot feel for their plight excessively even when administering treatment. MIMS

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