Intern as Patient: A Patient Experience Simulation to Cultivate Empathy in Emergency Medicine Residents
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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Intern as Patient: A Patient Experience Simulation to Cultivate Empathy in Emergency Medicine Residents

  • Author(s): Nelson, Sara W.;
  • Germann, Carl A.;
  • MacVane, Casey Z.;
  • Bloch, Rebecca B.;
  • Fallon, Timothy S.;
  • Strout, Tania D.
  • et al.

Introduction: Prior work links empathy and positive physician-patient relationships to improved healthcare outcomes. The objective of this study was to analyze a patient experience simulation for emergency medicine (EM) interns as a way to teach empathy and conscientious patient care.

Methods: We conducted a qualitative descriptive study on an in situ, patient experience simulation held during EM residency orientation. Half the interns were patients brought into the emergency department (ED) by ambulance and half were family members. Interns then took part in focus groups that discussed the experience. Data collected during these focus groups were coded by two investigators using a grounded theory approach and constant comparative methodology.   

Results: We identified 10 major themes and 28 subthemes in the resulting qualitative data. Themes were in three broad categories: the experience as a patient or family member in the ED; application to current clinical practice; and evaluation of the exercise itself. Interns experienced firsthand the physical discomfort, emotional stress and confusion patients and families endure during the ED care process. They reflected on lessons learned, including the importance of good communication skills, frequent updates on care and timing, and being responsive to the needs and concerns of patients and families. All interns felt this was a valuable orientation experience.

Conclusion: Conducting a patient experience simulation may be a practical and effective way to develop empathy in EM resident physicians. Additional research evaluating the effect of participation in the simulation over a longer time period and assessing the effects on residents’ actual clinical care is warranted.

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