How Do You Cure a Compassion Crisis? (Ep. 444 Rebroadcast)

Patients in the U.S. healthcare structure often feel they’re treated with a lack of empathy. Doctors and nurses have tragically high levels of burnout. Could define the first problem solve the second? And does the rest of society need more compassion too?

Listen and follow our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Below is a transcript of the escapade, revised for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the escapade, experience the links at the bottom of this post.


Hey there, it’s Stephen Dubner. Before this week’s episode, let me ask your help for a future occurrence we’re working on. It’s about swears and beliefs. Which ones do you believe in, and why? Give us an example! Tell us a legend! We’d like you to send us a brief audio recording. Just go in a hushed room and use your phone’s voice-memo app — and e-mail the datum to radio @freakonomics. com. Please include your refer, where you’re from, and any other information that might be relevant. And if we don’t hear from you — beware the Freakonomics Radio curse. Thanks in advance. Our episode this week is one of my most preferred, from the roof, published almost a year ago. It’s called “How Do You Cure a Compassion Crisis? ” I thought it was worth hearing again as we start the holiday season. Speaking of which: if you’re looking for gift projects, how about some Freakonomics swag? We just got in some good new nonsense: just go to and click on “Shop.” And now, “How Do You Cure a Compassion Crisis? ” Thanks for listening, and joyous holidays.


Today’s episode is really interesting. There are two ways we could start it, but I can’t decide which is better. One method is annoying and ribald, like this πŸ˜› TAGEND

Tiffany INGHAM: Well, why are you gazing then, retard?

Or we could start with the uplifting fib, like this πŸ˜› TAGEND

Stephen TRZECIAK: Scientists define empathy as an feeling response to another’s pain or suffering, involving an authentic desire to help.

I don’t know, I can’t make up my imagination. What do you think? All freedom, let’s time snap a copper. Psyches for bad, posteriors for uplifting. And it’s posteriors. Okay, we’ll get to the nasty stuff last-minute. So, let’s start here πŸ˜› TAGEND

Anthony MAZZARELLI: My name’s Anthony Mazzarelli. I am the co-president and C.E.O. of Cooper University Health Care.

The Cooper Health System takes in about $1.5 billion in annual receipts πŸ˜› TAGEND

MAZZARELLI: We’re a rank I trauma center located — our core hospital in Camden, N.J. But we have over 100 websites.

Mazzarelli doesn’t really rolled the hospital.

MAZZARELLI: I’m too a drill emergency-medicine physician.

People who know Mazzarelli call him Mazz. And Mazz is sort of an overachiever. During his medical teach, for example, at the University of Pennsylvania πŸ˜› TAGEND

MAZZARELLI: I intent up graduating with a medical severity, a principle grade, and a master’s in bioethics. And then did my residency training in emergency medicine now at Cooper and have not left Cooper since.

In 2014, Mazzarelli was promoted to manager medical officer πŸ˜› TAGEND

MAZZARELLI: And at that time, our university had engaged a consultant.

The consultant did what consultants do and indicated directions for research hospitals to strengthen its bottom line. One thought: the hospital should focus on improving patient experience and physician engagement.

MAZZARELLI: And there was a list of things to ask our physicians to do, which seemed, frankly, soft. Things that were kind of mushy. Things that I was concerned that I was going to have trouble going 450, 500 faculty members — I was going to have trouble getting them to do.

Some of these mushy things had to do with the relationship between doctors and patients. Mazz realized that most of what he was being asked to do was to get physicians to show more sorrow. Now, you might assume that most people who choose remedy as a profession do so in part because they are compassionate. Or at least that they’re learnt sorrow during medical school. If that’s the instance, where does it become? Does compassion somehow melt over age? If so, was there a viable way to increase it? And can compassion even be measured? Before doing anything, what Mazz needed was some research.

MAZZARELLI: So, I turning now to our No. 1 N.I.H.-funded investigate, the person or persons with “the worlds largest” pamphlets, the most N.I.H. dollars –.

TRZECIAK: I’ve been at Cooper for 17 years.

MAZZARELLI: And it was Steve.

TRZECIAK: My name’s Steve Trzeciak.

Trzeciak is the chairman and chief of the department of drug at Cooper. And likewise πŸ˜› TAGEND

TRZECIAK: I’m a research nerd and I’m likewise a practicing intensivist, a specialist in intensive-care medicine.

Here are two doctors — one specializing in intensive upkeep, the other in disaster medicine — who between them had given thousands of people who were each having one of the worst days of their lives πŸ˜› TAGEND

TRZECIAK: So, I never disbelieved that empathy was essential. And I don’t know anyone in healthcare that feels otherwise, or at least no one that would admit to it. It’s what we ought to do. The road that we ought to treat patients. But does it actually move the needle on outcomes in a measurable method? That’s what I was skeptical about.

But remember, the consultants the hospital brought in did want that needle moved. Mazzarelli was willing to consider that a dose of sorrow might be worthwhile. So, he contacted out to Trzeciak πŸ˜› TAGEND

MAZZARELLI: And sat with him and said, “Steve, can you science this up for me? Can you look at the data around this? ” And he said, “No, you’re crazy. I don’t want to be part of this. This is mushy. “Thats really not” what I do. I’m a hard-science guy.”

DUBNER: Is that surely what you said, Steve?

TRZECIAK: It is, but that’s because I didn’t know there was such hard science accessible.

DUBNER: How much era did you think you’d have to waste on Mazz’s silly plan?

TRZECIAK: Well, it didn’t make long before I started to see the beginning of the signal in the data. And that’s when everything started to resonate.

What Trzeciak was seeing in the data reverberated with something else that was happening in his life.

TRZECIAK: Where I sort of had an existential crisis, like,” What am I going to do with my busines ?” So, I just want to be clear about one thing. I was not in the market for any sort of a scientific arouse. My research program was hitting every metric for success. We were publishing in some of very good periodicals. Everything was fine, right? But then I had this question that was posed to me.

He doesn’t mean the question from Mazzarelli.

TRZECIAK: The question came from my son.

Trzeciak’s son was 12 year olds. The question actually came from a school homework assignment.

TRZECIAK: The question was, “What is the most pressing problem of our times? ”

Trzeciak talked over the assignment with his son. But then on his own, he prevented thinking about the question, and how it applied to him.

TRZECIAK: I knew that the research that I was working on was very important, but I too knew that it wasn’t the most pressing problem of our times. And I’m not old-time, but I’m too old to work on things that don’t certainly matter. It produced me to search for what is the most pressing trouble of our time.

And after a couple of weeks digging around in this seemingly mushy research project that Mazzarelli threw him on, he knew he’d obtained it — what he considered the most pressing problem of our time. At least in his field.

TRZECIAK: What I found in the data and likewise just looking around at healthcare, what I see is that we have a compassion crisis. You can either believe it matters or it doesn’t matter. But if it matters, how does it matter? How does it alter parties? How does it affect healthcare? How does it alter the economics of healthcare? How does it feign healthcare providers and burnout.

Trzeciak and Mazzarelli wound up writing a book that tries to answer these questions. It’s called Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference. Today on Freakonomics Radio: how strong is that evidence? How has the pandemic converted the equation? And: is it merely the healthcare structure where we need more empathy?


Okay, let’s start by revisiting that definition of “compassion.” Stephen Trzeciak again πŸ˜› TAGEND

TRZECIAK: Scientists define empathy as an feelings response to another’s pain or suffering involving an genuine desire to help.

That sounds like exactly what you’re setting out to do if you become a nurse or nurse practitioner; a physician assistant or a physician.

TRZECIAK: And the hypothesis is compassion matters. We don’t really aim compassion matters in a moral or ethical or sentimental sense. We wanted to test the hypothesis that compassion matters in discernible courses for patients and for those who care for cases.

Here’s one data point that Trzeciak and Mazzarelli cite in Compassionomics: when patients are asked what they consider “extremely important” features in a medical doctor, 85 percent say yes to being treated “with dignity and respect.”

MAZZARELLI: Simply 27 percent say they want them trained in one of very good medical institutions. Merely 58 percentage say, “Has a lot of experience.”

Anthony Mazzarelli again.

MAZZARELLI: Cases demand these factors that are more on the range of empathy and pity.

TRZECIAK: So, we do want to be crystal clear about one thing. The No. 1 move of clinical sequels is clinical excellence. If you’re a surgeon and you botched the surgery or if you’re a physician who prescribes the wrong drug, there is no amount of compassion that’s going to undo that. It’s not an either/ or, it’s an and. So, it’s compassion and clinical greatnes that induce the best clinical sequels.

DUBNER: When you’re going to look at data about the cost and effect of compassion in medical care, how do you sought for that? I’m guessing “compassion” is not a keyword in all these medical studies.

MAZZARELLI: Yeah, it’s a great question because you know, you can look up “pneumonia” in PubMed. PubMed is the equivalent of Google. And you look up “pneumonia, ” you’ll get every article on pneumonia. If you were to look up “compassion” or “empathy, ” you will not undoubtedly get every article. So, we had to do something which was essentially the equivalent of the Dewey Decimal System. We had to go back and do a systematic review of a reference-of-references approach — whole essays and then read all of those citations, and then read the references of those articles, and then the invoke of those articles, and retain doing that like a giant tree. That’s why it made a couple of years to do.

So, rather than trying out empirical ground on sorrow per se, Mazzarelli and Trzeciak coordinated their research around a cause of characteristics that make up what is called “patient-centered care.” These include kindness, empathy, tendernes — pretty much anything that presents doctors being nice to their patients. A pile of studies and research they looked at involved a 10 -question inspection called the CARE Measure. Cases are asked questions like: How well did medical doctors do “at establishing you feel at ease? ” How well did the doctor do at “fully understanding your concerns? ” At “showing care and compassion? ” At “making a plan of action with you? ” In striving out testify on patient-centered care, Mazzarelli and Trzeciak wound up reviewing 281 research essays that assembled what they learnt as a collage of prove about the supremacy of compassion.

DUBNER: Before we hear your argument and your evidence for the statement, let me just ask how caused are you that you’re right? Because I could imagine that we could identify benefits of compassionate care, but it may be that doctors show more compassion to patients who are more compliant. So, how caused are you that the outcomes are not driven by something else, whether observable or unobservable?

MAZZARELLI: Well, Steve used to have to correct me a good deal on this, because I am a lawyer likewise. He would ever say to me, “Look, we’re not making arguments. We’re testing a hypothesis.” He would say, “We need to be equally open that compassion isn’t something that is discernible and meaningful.”

TRZECIAK: Right. So, it’s important to recognize the difference between association and causation. And causation can only be derived from specific study schemes. But what is really compelling and to specifically get to your question, when you push all the data together and you see it all curated, essentially for the first time, the signal is so consistent across the studies that it really doesn’t make a whole lot of ability to conclude anything else.

Okay, let’s hear some of the evidence that Trzeciak and Mazzarelli compiled.

TRZECIAK: Sure. So, first, it’s important to be considered mechanisms. There are many broad categories by which pity for patients can be beneficial, and the first is physiological. Compassion for patients are truly modulate a patient’s feeling of ache. It can have immune-system consequences. There are also endocrine consequences, which makes in patients with diabetes, there’s evidence that they have better blood-glucose control and fewer complications when they’re treated with compassion on a regular basis. “Theres been” universally psychological results. So, compassion for patients aimed at reducing manifestations of sadnes, shorten manifestations of tension, shorten feeling distress associated with somatic afflictions like having cancer.

Those are some amazing( and amazingly concrete) claims for something that both Trzeciak and Mazzarelli believed might be mushy. So, let’s interrogate this evidence. Consider Trzeciak’s firstly claim πŸ˜› TAGEND

TRZECIAK: Compassion for patients are truly modulate a patient’s taste of pain.

How did they reach that inference? Their book cites several research papers that take a variety of approaches. One was a randomized-controlled trial done at Harvard Medical School with patients suffering from fretful bowel disorder. It found that compassionate care — for example, a medical doctor simply saying “I can understand how difficult I.B.S. is for you” — this led patients to report significantly higher rates of symptom relief. Another study, this one from Michigan State University, also exercised a randomized experimentation. That’s the good news. The bad news is the subject pool was tiny: just nine patients.

In any case, these nine patients were recruited from the waiting area of a primary-care clinic and randomly divided into two groups. The button radical got their standard visit with a doctor. The treatment group got the “compassionate” version, with the doctor engaging in warm conversation, just trying to procreate the patient feel at ease, and encouraging follow-up questions. Afterward, the researchers placed all nine cases in an fMRI machine, in order to measure their mentality undertaking. Each patient was then given a pain stimulus while being evidence an image of the doctor who’d seen them. The medication radical — that is, the patients who’d received the “compassionate” care — demo 47 percentage little activating in the region of the brain known for experiencing pain. Again: it’s a small study and fMRI evidence is hardly perfect — but still: such types of study has caused Trzeciak that sorrow can indeed modulate ache πŸ˜› TAGEND

TRZECIAK: So, I didn’t say eliminate suffering. But attenuate agony or one’s experience of pain.

And what are the mechanisms by which this happens?

TRZECIAK: One of many potential mechanisms by which tendernes can modulate their aching is the release of endorphins. So, when endorphins are circulating, they are essentially natural opioids.

Trzeciak also believes that compassion generates trust between patient and doctor.

TRZECIAK: In many rooms, the touch of a trusted other aimed at reducing one’s experience of anguish.

A study from the University of Haifa in Israel, for instance, uttered beings a pain stimulus while holding the side of either a stranger or a loved one. Holding a stranger’s hand didn’t lessen the suffering at all. But parties reported a 50 percentage reduction in pain while nursing the loved one’s hand. There’s other experiment proving broader declarations about human connection.

TRZECIAK: There’s evidence that human connection also modulates or can affect one’s autonomic nervous system. So, the autonomic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that does all that is you don’t have to think about. Like controlling your heart rate and your cardio-respiratory system.

Trzeciak points to evidence that compassion also affects what’s known as the parasympathetic nervous system. This can improve the flow of oxytocin, a molecule known as the “trust hormone.” Now, these physiological benefits of compassion are, to me at least, relatively surprising. Somewhat less surprising are the reported mental benefits.

TRZECIAK: That’s probably instinctive to some extent, that treating someone with tendernes can help their mental health. But we’ve likewise seen this in a study that we’d recently published here at Cooper.

This study was led by Brian Roberts, an emergency-medicine doctor.

TRZECIAK: Brian did research studies on the effects of compassion and the subsequent developed at P.T.S.D ., post-traumatic stress disorder.

He was studying people whose P.T.S.D. didn’t come from war or some harrowing loss. It came from spending time in the hospital.

TRZECIAK: So, nearly one-third of cases that go through the experience of critical illness in an I.C.U. end up making diagnostic criteria for P.T.S.D. at 30 epoches. Even if you just come to the E.R. with a life-threatening medical emergency, 25 percent of those cases be brought to an end seeing diagnostic criteria for P.T.S.D. at 30 periods.

Here’s the hypothesis Brian Roberts wanted to explore: that treating E.R. and I.C.U. cases with more pity might abridge the prevalence of P.T.S.D.

TRZECIAK: And what he found was that more sorrow from the patient’s perspective was associated with lower development of P.T.S.D. at 30 daylights. So, perhaps compassion for beings while they’re going through terrifying medical emergencies are truly help them with their mental effects down the road.

DUBNER: So, I mentioned this compassionomics suggestion to one doctor friend of mine. He’s a gastroenterologist whose specialty is cancer caution. He’s late 50 s, early 60 s. And he pushed back in the following terms. He said that physicians like him used to practice lots of compassion because, he said, there wasn’t much else they are unable to do formerly someone was diagnosed with cancer. And now that there are so many more treatment alternatives, that he’d instead deliver a lot of discipline than a bunch of sorrow. So, there’s an opportunity-cost argument to this, right? If we’re going to spend a lot of age learn and/ or are concentrated on these kind of softer skills, does the science suffer?

TRZECIAK: Compassion actually takes almost no time. Like, less than a time. There was a randomized restricted ordeal from Johns Hopkins in a cancer person, and the primary outcome set was nervousnes. If you have cancer or somebody close to you has, you know that anxiety is pretty important. And what they found is that the merciful maintenance had a significantly better consequence on the patient’s anxiety level. But what was most striking is that it only took 40 seconds for the intervention. And we observed five other studies which show that it is less than a instant. And some people would argue there should be no time dimension at all. Because it doesn’t take any extra time to treat somebody with pity.

MAZZARELLI: I review a fair response back is likely to be, “Okay, fine, you felt five studies, and it’s little than a time. But you’re opening yourself up to a ton more questions, you’re opening yourself up to a much longer visit.” But that’s also been studied, and there is no significant increase in the total length of era that people deplete together. I think that the problem is that it is sometimes very hard in prescription to take over a brand-new paradigm transformation.

To say “it’s hard for medicine to take on a paradigm shift” — that is an understatement. The autobiography of medicine is replete with inventions that make years, sometimes decades, to work their route into the mainstream. Hand hygiene, for instance, as basic as that are currently seems. Medicine is a difficult enterprise, a complicated nature, and in many ways a conservative one. With good reason. Remember: first, do no harm. So, imagine you are a hospital administrator. And some researcher comes into your office preaching the virtues of compassion. It has demonstrable physiological and psychological benefits, they tell you. It doesn’t take much day or endeavour, they tell you. Is that enough to convince you to round up all your doctors and tell them, on top of everything else they’re do, that they too need to show more compassion to their patients? Maybe. But if not, what if that researcher likewise tells you that compassion will save you a great deal of fund? Are you paying greater attention now?

MAZZARELLI: So, sorrow increased revenue and abridged expenditures.

How can compassion increase incomes?

MAZZARELLI: There’s patients who will pay more for that. We have data about hospices that have higher margins that have better patient experience.

That’s true-blue, according to data collected by a federal examine of hospital cases. And infirmaries that act well on this survey are also recouped at a higher rate by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

MAZZARELLI: But it’s the lessen costs that I think is the most interesting.

TRZECIAK: There is consistent evidence that when you care deeply for patients, and they know that, they’re more likely to make their prescription. And non-adherence to medical care in the U.S. alone reports for somewhere between $100 and $280 billion of avoidable downstream healthcare overheads.

MAZZARELLI: And if empathy is something that can help people be more adherent, even captivating a fraction of that could decrease payments in the healthcare structure, which is approaching 19 percent of the G.D.P. That’s one road it can decrease payments. Another behavior is in studies where there’s genuinely patient-centered care, the proportion of patients who were referred to experts was 59 percent lower while those who underwent diagnostic testing was 84 percent lower.

DUBNER: I can see how fewer referrals to specialists and less extra testing would certainly lower costs. But how do we know that those lower costs aren’t at the expense of better aftermaths? Because plainly some referrals and some tests are necessary.

TRZECIAK: So, there’s a whole division of the book dedicated to the data on quality of care. And we’ve acquired associations in the data between more caring and fewer faults. And many of us in healthcare have been exposed to kinfolks — and fortunately they’re few and far between — who maybe don’t care as much as we think they ought to.

MAZZARELLI: Or they formerly did.

TRZECIAK: Or they formerly did, right? If they’re burned out. If you go to medical conferences, there is one theme that is drowning out just about every other topic that’s being discussed. And that’s the topic of burnout among healthcare providers.

Indeed, the World Health Organization recently lent burnout to its international Classification of Diseases — not as a medical circumstance, but an occupational phenomenon. Plainly, medication isn’t the only occupation where burnout can happen. But it is surprisingly common among physicians. So, what’s this have to do with compassion?


Anthony Mazzarelli and Stephen Trzeciak are medical doctors and executives at Cooper University Health Care in Camden, N.J. That’s time across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. They have co-authored a journal announced Compassionomics, which has been suggested that when physicians consider their patients with sorrow, it improves medical the impact and abbreviates expenditure. But there is a problem πŸ˜› TAGEND

MAZZARELLI: There is a compassion crisis in healthcare.

How can that be? How can the most attending of attending professings be lacking in compassion? Before we get into the causes, would you like an example? Of direction you are able to. Remember at the beginning of this episode, I mentioned a certain nasty and vulgar happen? Let me really pause here to emphasize that this example is not representative of most healthcare professionals. Most people who get into medicine do so because they want to help people. They take a dedicate to uphold a standard. But sometimes that standard is violated. In 2013, for instance, a male went to have a colonoscopy at a medical facility in Reston, Va. There was the gastroenterologist who performed the procedure, an anesthesiologist, and a medical assistant. The case planned to record the doctor’s teaches on his phone formerly the colonoscopy was over. But he accidentally recorded the whole procedure. From his uneasy questions before things got started πŸ˜› TAGEND

PATIENT: Sorry I have so many questions, I only — it’s time my first time doing anything like this.

To the doctors talking about him formerly he was anesthetized πŸ˜› TAGEND

INGHAM: He’s crazy.

They start talking about an earlier difficulty the patient had — a genital rash.

Soloman SHAH: He impedes mentioning it like it’s the first time he’s ever talked to anyone about it. I’m like, “Sir, you’ve seen two urologists. What “d you tell me” for? ” And, too, don’t — don’t mention it to me, because I’m not interested.

INGHAM: And I don’t care, accurately. And then he went on and on about it. And I’m like–.

SHAH: One of the neat things about being a specialist is I don’t deal with that.

INGHAM: One of the nice things about being an anesthesiologist is performing parties shut the hell up.

SHAH: That’s why I didn’t become a freaking urologist.

In case you didn’t catch that, the anesthesiologist says, “One of the neat things about being an anesthesiologist is attaining parties shut the hell up.” And then she continues, alternately is speaking to her collaborators and the anesthetized patient.

INGHAM: After five minutes of talking to you in pre-op, I wanted to punch you in the face and adult you up a little bit. So, simply make sure you’re gowned up. Don’t want you to accidentally chafe up against it. Get some syphilis on your appendage or something. It’s probably tuberculosis in the penis, So, you’ll be alright. Just get a P.P.D. in like a few months, and then you’ll take some I.N.H. and be fine.

SHAH: As long as it’s not Ebola, you’re okay.

MEDICAL ASSISTANT: So, if you assure a rash–.

INGHAM: It’s penis Ebola.

“It’s penis Ebola, ” she says, which is not a thing. Then she says she’s going to enter “hemorrhoids” on the patient’s chart.

INGHAM: I’m going to mark hemorrhoids even though we don’t examine them and probably won’t.

“Even though we don’t interpret them and probably won’t.”

INGHAM: “I’m just going to take a shot in the dark.

This patient, after waking up and hearing the telephone recording, litigated medical doctors. The gastroenterologist was ultimately dismissed from the occurrence, but the anesthesiologist and her rehearse were ordered to pay a half-million dollars in detriments. Again, well one happen, and an shocking sample, sure as shooting. But if you want to make an argument for the lack of compassion in healthcare, it’s a good example. On the other hand, if you want to make an argument that having compassion can save money, as Mazzarelli and Trzeciak argue, you can use this lawsuit as two examples where the lack of compassion can be very expensive. And hitherto, they say, there is still a huge deficit in compassionate attention. Here’s Trzeciak again πŸ˜› TAGEND

TRZECIAK: The data therefore seems that specialists, precisely, miss approximately 60 to 90 percent of opportunities to respond to patients with sorrow.

DUBNER: Give me a simple example of a physician failing to exercise compassion.

TRZECIAK: Let’s start with the most basic. Recent data from the Mayo Clinic show that physicians will end cases in their statement of their main concern at the 11 -second mark. That’s the median time to firstly interruption. So, patients may not even get to fully explain the main concern that they have.

This kind of problem is driven in vast proportion by how doctors are reimbursed. As you likely know, our healthcare organization tend to gave more appraise on procedures and tests than on conversation or prevention. This is hard for doctors themselves; many of them are exasperated that their professing — long viewed as a calling — has become so transactional. But there too appears to be a perception gap between both physicians and patients. Consider a questionnaire done by the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, which included 800 recently hospitalized patients and more than 500 doctors. When asked if most healthcare professionals equip compassionate caution, 78 percent of the doctors said yes; for cases, that number was just 54 percentage.

TRZECIAK: So, that data, and there are other data to show it, register quite clearly that many of our healthcare providers can have a blind spot with respect to how well they’re connecting with their patients. We are thinking that we’re providing them with the emotional support that there is a requirement to but the data showed that’s not what we’re actually delivering.

What’s missing in this equation? It appears to be empathy.

Helen RIESS: Yes. Empathy is a human capacity that allows us to perceive, process, and respond to others’ emotional states.

That’s Helen Riess . She is a Harvard therapist who likewise practices at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she guides a program that does empathy research and training.

RIESS: There ought to have many studies, both in medical students and in drill physicians, that demonstrate that there is definitely a deficit in empathy and tendernes.

DUBNER: Let’s say on a flake of one to 10, what is the median American doctor’s empathy level?

RIESS: I’d say it’s about four-and-a-half.

DUBNER: Oh, that’s discouraging, isn’t it?

RIESS: I think so. And it’s not to blame the doctors. I just think that our method right now is working to get the outcome that we’re seeing. First of all, prescription has become a business, and whereas we used to have time to get to know patients and to really form relations, it’s much more about throughput now, and how many beings you can squeeze into an afternoon. The incentives are much higher to see somebody for 20 minutes to really prescribe their prescription than to see them as a whole person.

Riess argues that this scenario is a big driver of physician burnout. How is that defined?

RIESS: Burnout is defined when a few things are happening, announced depersonalization, where patients are recognized more like as a number, or a diagnosis, one on a roster instead of like real parties. A feel of lessened effectiveness, precisely feeling like no matter how hard I operate I precisely don’t truly feel like I’m doing a good job. And emotional exhaustion.

In 2019, the National Academy of Medicine published each of these reports putting the rate of physician burnout in the U.S. between 40 and 54 percent. That’s approximately doubled the burnout charge among proletarians in other arenas, even “after controlling for hours and other factors.” It’s also estimated that the rate of physician suicide is double that of its population — between 300 and 400 doctors each year.

RIESS: Among the general population, there are a lot struggles. But when physicians decide they have had enough, they know how to end their lives and they have what’s called a successful outcome. Of direction it couldn’t be farther from the truth.

As bad as physician burnout has been in recent years, Covid offset it worse. A recent Medscape survey found that two-thirds of the doctors who responded said their burnout indications had intensified during the pandemic; a one-quarter of them said they are considering early retirement, in part because their income has precipitated. Nurses are also thought to have very high rates of burnout — although, frustratingly, there’s less data on nurses. And the lack of data on nurse suicide is even worse. Among physicians, burnout is known to start early. It’s estimated that 44 percent of medical students suffer from burnout before they even make it to their residency.

RIESS: I talk to medical students and inhabitants all the time. And they say, “When I chose this as a profession, I conceived I’d be investing the majority of cases with cases .” But the average resident expends about 12 minutes a day with their patient. And the rest of the time is all work done through the computer.

This is a complaint we’ve heard before on this establish, from Atul Gawande.

Atul GAWANDE: At this site, I’m a glorified data-entry clerk.

And Gawande is among the most prominent specialists in America — a surgeon, public-health researcher, and best-selling author.

GAWANDE: I invest more day doing data entering in my role than I do learning my patients. And that’s just broken.

RIESS: If beings are feeling exhausted, undone from the reason that brought them to the profession, and they’re not feeling very effective in their jobs, their morale is going to decay, and mistrust can start to creep in.

There’s a cult tale, published in 1978, announced The House of God ,~ ATAGEND which will continue popular among medical students. It follows a group of first-year citizens at work in the hospital — the “house of God” is their name for research hospitals itself. Here’s one passageway: “Before the House of God, I had adored aged parties. Now they were no longer old people, they only gomers.” A gomer is doctor-slang for “get out of my emergency room.” The passage continues: “I did not, could not enjoy them anymore. I struggle to rest, and cannot, and I were working to love, and cannot, for I’m all leached out, like a man’s shirt soaped too many times.”

MAZZARELLI: When I started medical academy, compassion wasn’t a part of the curriculum–.

Anthony Mazzarelli again πŸ˜› TAGEND

MAZZARELLI: It wasn’t a entitlement of any castigate. It wasn’t on any test.

And Stephen Trzeciak πŸ˜› TAGEND

TRZECIAK: Classically, the teaching in medical education — and this wasn’t taught as one of the purposes of the formal curriculum, this is just what you pick from your peers, there’s this thinking that, “Don’t get too close to patients.” Because that could prepare you prone to coming burned out.

Trzeciak says the current medical-school curricula are more likely to focus on empathy and empathy. He says there’s no established standard for this kind of training , nor is it likely to be evidence-based. But at least the arrow is moving in the right direction. Also, there’s new technology, like virtual reality, to help medical students learn to interact with patients. Now again is the psychiatrist Helen Riess:

RIESS: There was a company that made this wrist device that helped you know what it was like to have Parkinsonism. And when I tried it and I couldn’t even comprised a pencil, I recognized I had no idea how hard it would even be to write anything or zip up your jacket. And it instantly gave me more empathy for people who can’t control their progress.

Some years back, Riess co-founded a company announced Empathetics. It consumes live and virtual seminars to educate anyone — but chiefly healthcare workers — how to be more empathetic.

RIESS: Empathy is how we perceive the emotional state of others and that comes mapped onto our brain. So, empathy is needed in order to show compassion.

So, how does this translate into advice for doctors?

RIESS: Empathy is in part a shared know-how. And so, if your patient is really worried about something, and you’re sitting there flatline, you’re not catching any of the feeling. And we’re not be said that you get just as upset as individual patients. But there should be a change in your physiology when something very emotionally accused is happening. And that’s why if physicians are looking at computer screens and not catching a facial expression, and they’re not really hearing it in the tone of voice, they can miss something that’s extremely important to the patient.

Reiss herself designed the programme that Empathetics are applied to school empathy.

RIESS: On a walk in the timbers the working day, it kind of came to me that the word empathy could act as an acronym for all seven behaviors that we connect.

Okay, let’s start with the E πŸ˜› TAGEND

RIESS: The first lane that we connect with anybody is through eye contact that says, “I see you. You exist.” And it goes back as early as a mother-infant bonding, that small children knows there are through the gape of the mother or whoever’s bracing them, and oxytocin is exhausted when people gaze at one another and it ligament people. And in healthcare, when people feel afraid, big, and vulnerable, that gaze actually makes a great deal. The next character is M, for “muscles of facial expression.” And I had to use that because there’s no F in “empathy” for the face.

DUBNER: It’s fair, there was still muscles in the face

RIESS: Well, they are what shape our speech. So, it works.

The idea here is that our facial expressions often imitative someone else’s concern or sorrow. The “P” in Riess’s acronym is for posture, or body language. “A” is for affect; the “T” is for tone of voice; the “H” is for hearing the patient, the part patient.

RIESS: In medicine, it’s so easy to focus on the injured body part — the pancreas that has abnormalities or the heart that’s got a murmur. But we’ve got to back up and realize that all these body parts are attached to a person, and only attending about how your weave is regenerating is not going to make that case feel very attended about. Even though you’ve done a magnificent surgery.

And that foliages us with the Y πŸ˜› TAGEND

RIESS: The “Y” is the most interesting one of all. And that is “your response.” And it’s not “what youre saying” next. “Your response” is your feeling of being with that person, because most feelings are reciprocal. And if you’re feeling good after an interaction, hazards are the other person is, more. But if you’re feeling a little like something tilted there — we are in favour of taking some minutes to manifest back on what just happened. And ask yourself, “Was I abrupt? Did I seem rushed? Did I cut the person or persons off? Did I not ask their questions? ” Like when things are off, we should not just move on and say, “Oh well.” Because oftentimes it’s that chink whatever it is you various kinds of know anything wasn’t quite right.

Helen Riess’s argument is that if you want to increase compassion among doctors and other healthcare personnel, you have to start with empathy.

RIESS: Empathy’s the prerequisite.

And if the empathy doesn’t come naturally, or if it gets leached apart over meter, and if people have to be taught to exhibit empathy — well, that’s what needs to happen. And there’s one more reason why it needs to happen. This is the most radical argument that Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli clear in their notebook Compassionomics. All that trash about how tendernes is good for cases, both physiologically and psychologically? That’s not completely fucked up. All the evidence that physician burnout is a huge problem? Likewise not completely fucked up. Here’s their progressive recommendation: empathy is not a one-way street.

Its benefits accrue is not simply to cases, they suggest, but to doctors and harbours as well. Compassion, in other words, will regenerate the healers. Several studies have related pity or empathy to lower levels of burnout. It’s really hard for studies like that to prove causation, but investigates have documented physiological benefits of dispensing compassion. Sometimes it’s called “the helper’s high-pitched, ” driven perhaps by a spike in endorphins. Dispensing compassion can also activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces a calming impression. Compassion — the thing that doctors need to show — is the very thing that doctors need. That, at least, is the argument put forth by Trzeciak and Mazzarelli.

TRZECIAK: The preponderance of evidence shows that there is an inverse association between tendernes and burnout. So, more tendernes, lower burnout; lower pity, higher burnout. Healthcare providers who have lower compassion for cases are more predisposed to getting burned out under the same extent of stress. So, we believe that having a fulfilling doctor-patient relationship, or a nurse-patient relationship, gives you that fulfilling part of medicine, and if you don’t have that, then it’s merely one stress after another.

Soon after Trzeciak and Mazzarelli began to focus on the science of pity, they started a program at Cooper Health System to mentor physicians on how to connect and communicate with cases. Mazzarelli reports that the hospital has since made improvements every year, in patient satisfaction; physician engagement; and financial performance — although Mazzarelli, genuine to what he’s learned during his compassionomics journeying, was careful to note that, “Of course we can only report association rather than exhaustive causation from these data.”

DUBNER: Let me ask you, since you were the skeptic coming in, Steve, I’m really curious to know what kind of effect the present working — the research and writing the book and trying to put it into practice — what kind of effect that’s had on you personally and/ or professionally?

TRZECIAK: Sure. So, after going through all of the data and specifically interpret the signal that compassion can be beneficial for the giver very, that really left an indelible marking on me. Because after 20 years of working in an I.C.U. and converge beings on the worst day of “peoples lives”, I came to the realization that I had every symptom of burnout. Every single one. And I assure you, that’s not a good situate to be. So, having merely synthesized all the evidence that compassion can be beneficial for the giver more, I decided to do an experiment on myself. And I tried very hard and I still do to this day, working to connect with beings more , not less. It’s not only the patients for me. It’s the families of such. Many of my patients are so sick that they can’t talk. They’re on a ventilator, for example. But connecting more , not less, reclining in rather than pulling back — and for me that was when the cloud of burnout began to lift. And you too realize that you can get better at empathy — it can be taught, it can be learned — and you have to be very purposeful in drill it every day.

DUBNER: Can you give me an example or two of something that you say that you wouldn’t have said? Or maybe it’s something that “youre telling” differently? Is it the channel you touch someone that you might not have touched before? Is it see contact?

TRZECIAK: Actually, it’s not something that I say. Oftentimes it’s something that I don’t say. It’s just being present. I practise critical care and there are a lot of meters when the outcome is not something that can be changed. And sometimes you really need to sit with people and their endure. “You’re not going to go through this alone.” “I am here with you.” In actuality, time in the I.C.U. recently, I had to give — virtually story to a woman whose brother was fighting for his life. We were still hopeful that he could recover, but he was so severe that it was very likely that he might not. And it was devastating to her because he had been her rock throughout her entire being.

At the end of that discussion, she said, “You don’t remember me, do you? ” And I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t.” And she said, “I wouldn’t think that you would. You check So, numerous cases now. It’s okay. But eight years ago, my mom was in that room right across the hall there and you were her doctor. And we had to have this talk and you had to tell me that she was dying and there was nothing we could do for her.” And what she retained was the nannies and the fact that she never felt alone through that whole know. She said the kindness of your wet-nurses and how they helped me through that, she said, “It continues coming back here to me. It comes back to me all the time. I think about that because it was so hard at the time. But each time I really thought about it, I think about the kindness of those nurses.” And so, going back to what we were talking about earlier, even if there is 281 citations in this book of original science research papers that show that compassion matters, even when it can’t make a difference in the outcome, it still makes a difference.

That, again, was a replay of Episode No. 444, “How Do You Cure a Compassion Crisis ?” You can get the entire archive of Freakonomics Radio on any podcast app.


Freakonomics Radio is produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This occurrence was produced by Morgan Levey. Our staff also includes Alison Craiglow, Greg Rippin, Jasmin Klinger, Eleanor Osborne, Mary Diduch, Zack Lapinski, Ryan Kelley, Emma Tyrrell, Lyric Bowditch, and Jacob Clemente. Our theme song is “Mr. Fortune, ” by the Hitchhikers; the rest of the music was composed by Luis Guerra. You can subscribe to Freakonomics Radio on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Here’s where you can learn more about the people and ideas in this episode πŸ˜› TAGEND


Steve Trzeciak, chairman and chief of the department of drug at Cooper University Health Care. Anthony Mazzarelli, co-president and C.E.O. of Cooper University Health Care. Helen Riess, administrator of the Empathy and Relational Science Program.


Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference, by Steve Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli. “Physician Income Drops, Burnout Spikes Globally in Pandemic ,” by Marcia Frellick( Medscape, 2020 ). “Healthcare Provider Compassion is Associated with Lower PTSD Symptoms Among Patients with Life-Threatening Medical Disaster: A Prospective Cohort Study ,” by Jeena Moss, Michael B. Roberts, Lisa Shea, Christopher W. Jones, Hope Kilgannon, Donald E. Edmondson, Stephen Trzeciak, and Brian W. Roberts( Intense Care Medicine, 2019 ). “Burnout in Medical Students Before Residency: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis ,” by Ariel Frajermana, Yannick Morvanb, Marie-Odile Krebsa, Philip Gorwood, and Boris Chaumette( European Psychiatry, 2019 ). “Changes in Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Integration in Physicians and the General US Working Population Between 2011 and 2017 ,” by Tait D. Shanafelt, Colin P. West, Christine Sinsky, Mickey Trockel, Michael Tutty, Daniel V. Satele, Lindsey E. Carlasare, and Lotte N. Dyrbye( Mayo Clinic, 2019 ). “Taking Action Against Clinician Burnout: A Systems Approach to Professional Well-Being ,” by the National Academy of Medicine( The National Academic Press, 2019 ). “Eliciting the Patient’s Agenda- Secondary Analysis of Recorded Clinical Encounters ,” by Naykky Singh Ospina, Kari A. Phillips, Rene Rodriguez-Gutierrez, Ana Castaneda-Guarderas, Michael R. Gionfriddo, Megan E. Branda, and Victor M. Montori( Mayo Clinic, 2019 ). “Curricula for Empathy and Compassion Training in Medical Education: A Systematic Review ,” by Sundip Patel, Alexis Pelletier-Bui, and Stephanie Smith, Michael B. Roberts, Hope Kilgannon, Stephen Trzeciak, and Brian W. Roberts( PLOS One, 2019 ). “National Health Expenditure Projections, 2018-27: Financial And Demographic Tendency Drive Spending And Enrollment Growth ,” by Andrea M. Sisko, Sean P. Keehan, John A. Poisal, Gigi A. Cuckler, Sheila D. Smith, Andrew J. Madison, Kathryn E. Rennie, and James C. Hardesty( Health Affairs, 2019 ). “Physicians Experience Highest Suicide Rate of Any Profession ,” by Pauline Anderson( Medscape, 2018 ). “Kindness in the curriculum ,” by Beth Howard( AAMC, 2018 ). “Examining the Relationship Between Burnout and Empathy in Healthcare Professionals: A Systematic Review ,” by Helen Wilkinson, Richard Whittington, Lorraine Perry, and Catrin Eames( Burnout Research, 2017 ). “Burnout Among Health Care Professionals: A Call to Explore and Address This Underrecognized Threat to Safe, High-Quality Care ,” by Lotte N. Dyrbye, Tait D. Shanafelt, Christine A. Sinsky, Pamela F. Cipriano, Jay Bhatt, Alexander Ommaya, Colin P. West, and David Meyers( National Academy of Medicine, 2017 ). “Empathy Predicts an Experimental Pain Reduction During Touch ,” by Pavel Goldstein, Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory, Shahar Yellinek, and Irit Weissman-Fogel( The Journal of Pain, 2016 ). “Affective and Physiological Responses to the Suffering of Others: Compassion and Vagal Activity ,” by Jennifer E. Stellar, Adam Cohen, Christopher Oveis, and Dacher Keltner( Interpersonal Relations and Group Procedure, 2015 ). “To Be or Not to Be Empathic: The Combined Role of Empathic Concern and Perspective Taking in Understanding Burnout in General Practice ,” by Martin Lamothe, Emilie Boujut, Franck Zenasni, and Serge Sultan( BMC Family Practice, 2014 ). “Patient-Centered Interviewing is Associated with Decreased Responses to Painful Stimuli: An Initial fMRI Study ,” by Issidoros Sarinopoulos, Ashley M. Hesson, Chelsea Gordon, Seungcheol A. Lee, Lu Wang, Francesca Dwamena, and Robert C. Smith( Patient Education and Counseling, 2012 ). “An Agenda For Improving Compassionate Care: A Survey Shows About Half of Patients Say Such Care Is Missing ,” by Beth A. Lown, Julie Rosen, and John Marttila( Patient-Centeredness, 2011 ). “Factor Structure of the Maslach Burnout Inventory: An Analysis of Data from Large Scale Cross-Sectional Surveys of Nurses from Eight Countries ,” by Lusine Poghosyan, Linda H. Aiken, and Douglas M. Sloane( International Journal of Nursing Studies, 2009 ). “Components of Placebo Effect: Randomised Controlled Trial in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome ,” by Ted J. Kaptchuk, John M. Kelley, Lisa A. Conboy, Roger B. Davis, Catherine E. Kerr, Eric E. Jacobson, Irving Kirsch, Rosa N. Schyner, Bong Hyun Nam, Long T. Nguyen, Min Park, Andrea L. Rivers, Claire McManus, Efi Kokkotou, Douglas A. Drossman, Peter Goldman, and Anthony J. Lembo( BMJ, 2008 ). “The Impact of Patient-Centered Care on Outcomes ,” by Wayne Weston and John Jordan( The Journal of Family Practice, 2000 ). “Can 40 seconds of compassion increase case distres ?” by L. A. Fogarty, B. A. Curbow, J. R. Wingard, K. McDonnell, and M. R. Somerfield( Journal of Clinical Oncology, 1999 ). “The Value of Patient Experience ,” by David Betts( Deloitte ).


The Empathy Effect: Seven Neuroscience-Based Keys for Transforming the Way We Live, Love, Work, and Connect Across Divergence ,~ ATAGEND by Helen Riess. The House of God, by Samuel Shem. “The Most Ambitious Thing Humans Have Ever Attempted( Ep. 333 ) ,” by Freakonomics Radio( 2018 ). “How Do You Cure a Compassion Crisis?( Ep. 444 )” by Freakonomics Radio( 2020 ).

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