Are real clinicians more capable of empathy than chatbots?

Currently doing the rounds is the recent JAMA paper on the advantageous effect of physician empathy on low back pain outcomes.

It makes us happy, because this is something as humans we can offer.

But wait: In this paper, researchers found physician responses were 41% less empathetic than chatbot responses.

Of course we can find hoops and hollows in pretty much any paper, but as patient satisfaction with AI responses seems far more positive than we might have expected, is it time we examined ourselves?

What gets in the way of empathy?

One of the often raised issues that I hear from clinicians as we discuss the concept of allowing enough space for learning and insight from the patient is that “patients expect x,y,z” or worries about giving sufficient value for money, leading to overservicing within the session.

Let’s be clear – neither of those issues is to do with the patient.

The first is a projection of our own expectations, and the second is about how we value ourselves.

In other words, empathy can only go so far as what will fit in the cracks between all our well meaning information, educatiing, techniques and exercises as we rush from one end of the session hoping to please the patient with the perception of lots happening.

The more stressed we are, the more we do this.

Chatbots don’t have these problems.

Our very humanity, which we assume gives us the edge, is also what takes it away.

What do rehabilitation practitioners spend their CPD pounds on? They sign up for more courses offering more physical techniques, more diagnostic tests, more pathways, more protocols in the belief that this will make them feel secure …and are too busy to prioritise their own self regulation, or learn how to create a calm interaction dynamic that fosters the empathy which, as it turns out, is more evidence based than pretty much anything they are doing, if low back pain is to be taken as an example.

Interesting, isn’t it?

If this is an intriguing concept for you, it is something that we tackle head on in JEMS® Movement ARC. We don’t just explore how to select the most relevant and powerful movement tests and techniques, but how you can develop the self awareness and skill to match the learning rhythm of the patient, to coach them in such a way that they make their own discoveries, and allows you to step down from the high pressure, over responsible, people pleasing role and into the space where that natural empathy can re emerge.

A chatbot can’t do that.

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