A doctor friend – let’s call her Anne – was teaching three smart medical students who were told to diagnose a woman complaining of nonspecific pain and anxiety. After 20 minutes of questions, the students wrote seven pages of notes and recommended two drugs: a painkiller and an antidepressant. Anne considered the students’ analysis and agreed that it was based on sound medical evidence. But something told her there was more to the story.
She sat beside the patient, asked general questions and listened carefully. After a few minutes, the woman broke down in tears and told her about a personal tragedy involving a family member. After some comforting, the woman’s tears, shoulder pain and anxiety went away. Anne’s dose of empathy cured the woman, without the need of resorting to drugs. This is an important consideration, given that even relatively mild painkillers may contribute to the opioid crisis as some patients subsequently seek stronger and stronger drugs.
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