Doctors can never empathise with patients

GPs who respond to a patient's distress by saying they understand how they feel are likely to be resented and self deceiving, according to a GP.

Dr Jane Macnaughton
Dr Jane Macnaughton

Writing in The Lancet today, Dr Jane Macnaughton, a former GP now working as an honorary consultant at the University Hospital of North Durham, says: ‘I can be close to tears with a patient but 10 minutes later engage in a lighthearted conversation with a colleague over coffee.

‘The sadness or fear or whatever feeling I have experienced is not sustained and is so different from what the patient is feeling that it seems disrespectful to suggest that I somehow participate in his or her experience.’

Dr Macnaughton believes that true empathy ‘derives from an experience of intersubjectivity and this cannot be achieved in the doctor-patient relationship’.

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