Empathy in healthcare

Niti Aayog has proposed a 15-year plan for Indian healthcare titled’ Health Systems for a New India: Building blocks – potential pathways to reform’. It outlines the proposal made for making changes to the health system by strengthening it via reduction of out of pocket health, elimination of informality, merging fragmented risk pools and consolidate small practices into a large business, however, this proposal seems problematic. There are 98% of health care providers with less than ten employees and favouring consolidation with a set of incentives and disincentives apart from cost and competition could see the commodification of the healthcare industry.
The report is bent towards the US. Health maintenance organisations (HMOs) which are criticised for turning healthcare into a marketable product being sold by providers which like empathy, regard and loyalty.

Loyalty and empathy for the vital pillars of a patient doctor relationship. It is built a layer of mutual trust and warmth. Haphazard interactions between the patient and doctor limit one access to a physician of choice due to the incapability of fostering enduring relationships. Widespread commercialisation of care has lead to the dying role of the family physician, which are better expected to understand a patient and avoid unnecessary clinical hassles. In a background of overcrowded hospitals and profit-making health care enterprises, the doctor-patient interaction has become transactional, giving rise to mistrust in the healthcare provider.

Benefit of small clinics

Studies show that healthcare received in smaller clinics shows higher patient satisfaction which results in better compliance with the treatment, regular follow-ups and an improved clinical outcome.
A review and analysis of trials have shown that an established patient-physician relationship has a significant effect on healthcare outcomes.

However, this doctor-patient relationship is non-urgent and insignificant to policymakers. As India looks forward to long term healthcare policy, neglecting this aspect can be a cause of concern.

Empathy in healthcare

There is a myth that empathy and trust are different and cannot be factored into the health policy and system design. But in reality, these are components of the health system design. It requires measures like having a family physician who acts as the first person to go to for every registered patient.

Niti Aayog’s long term plan provides an excellent opportunity to seek long term reforms. The plane needs to be revisited to ensure that the healthcare clinics deliver patient care with empathy and do not transform into supermarkets which market medical services.


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