Reflections of a TeleHealth Nurse Practitioner

… and the patient replied, “Thank-you for really hearing me.”

Empathy seems to “teleport” well. Whether face-to-face or via telehealth connection, the energy of empathy is what connects us. I assume like many of us in the healthcare profession, I consider myself empathetic. It may be an inherent personality trait, though certainly can be developed over years of practice.

I believe empathy is honed on every personal encounter and every life experience I am benefitted with. Early on in my career, I believe my compassion was based more in sympathy as I needed a point of reference to truly feel empathy then. For example; if a patient had a sick child or life situation similar to my own, I could reach a point of empathy. Now I believe I now longer need to be self-referential to gain this level of compassion.

The ever-tightening time constraints of health care practice have taught me to come to this point of empathy quickly; to become quickly and fully present with my patients. (We are not allowed a lengthy courtship!) If I can come to them from a point of unconditional empathy and observe with all my senses what is being relayed by the patient, they will often expedite the diagnosis process and will be more fully partnered with you in the plan of care. (This comes from my belief that the patient, not I, is the expert of their own body and knows it better than anyone and another belief that we frequently treat test results first instead of patients.)

Experience gained in life experience and spiritual practice has taught me to come to this point of empathy more fully. I am far less-likely to sympathize… I do not feel this is often of great value. It has little to do with the right “therapeutic dialogue” or well-rehearsed phrase. The truth is that when we are heard and understood without judgment or label… we know it. I do not have to have direct experience with their experience to “get it”. I need only start from a point of real compassion and understanding. Being a flawed human, I can also state that when I get busy or distracted and do not practice this, my practice and my patients suffer. (And I typically make my day a lot harder).

I am grateful to find that this ability to be fully present with the patient or client does not suffer when done from a distance through Telemedicine.

Dr. Julie K. Shaw ARNP, ANP, GNP, ACHPN