The ProspectiveDoctor Podcast

Putting the ‘Patient’ Back into Patient Care with Dr. Larry Benz

Dr. Larry Benz, a physical therapist and founder of Confluent Health discusses the application of positive psychology and empathy in medicine.

  • [00:41] Dr. Benz’s Background in Physical Therapy and Positive Psychology
  • [03:51] Positive Psychology Courses
  • [05:46] The Importance of Doctor-Patient Relationships
  • [08:42] How to Cultivate Empathy
  • [10:22] Humanities in Medical School Curriculums
  • [12:55] Technology and AI in Healthcare
  • [17:32] Virtual Reality Therapy for Chronic Pain
  • [20:44] Burnout and Dehumanization Among Doctors
  • [28:50] Needed Change in Current Healthcare System
  • [30:29] Direct Primary Care Movement
  • [32:02] Dr. Benz’s Advice to Pre-Med and Medical Students

Dr. Larry Benz is a physical therapy doctor with a master’s degree in applied positive psychology. He is the co-founder of Confluent Health; a physical therapy company that aims to lower healthcare costs while improving overall health for everybody. Recently, Dr. Benz published Called to Care: A Medical Provider’s Guide for Humanizing Healthcare. In his book, he talks about the application of positive psychology and empathy in medicine.

The Importance of Doctor-Patient Relationships

Doctors have an extensive knowledge about diseases, diagnoses, and interventions. Objective expertise is important but doctors should also pay attention to how they interact with patients.
Establishing a good doctor-patient relationship has a positive effect on treatment outcomes. Not only that, but a quality connection between doctors and patients also prevents physician burnout. From a business standpoint, showing that you genuinely care for your patients can become a competitive advantage.

How to Cultivate Empathy

Everyone is born with different capacities for empathy. Although some people are more gifted, empathy is a skill that can be developed the more you put it into practice. Empathy has several facets and people may score differently on its constructs.

When students graduate medical school, they have even less empathy than when they started. Fortunately, studies have shown that empathy can be taught and replenished. Medical schools are including philosophy, literature, and humanities once again in their curriculums. To cultivate empathy, people need to be constantly reminded and taught.

 Technology and AI in Healthcare

Technology and AI should be used to make healthcare more efficient. A good example of leveraging the use of tech is virtual reality therapy for chronic pain. After just 6 sessions, chronic pain patients have reported decreased hospital visits, depression, and anxiety.

However, there is still no substitute for human interaction in administering care. Delivering care in an indifferent manner has been found to be less effective due to the lack of connection. Physicians should also take note of non-verbal cues like body language, facial expression, and changes in tone to be able to have meaningful interactions. Emphasizing the human element in care leads to better outcome and lower costs. Quality connections also improve doctor well-being.

Burnout and Dehumanization Among Doctors

Doctors spend a lot of time on documentation, approval, and authorization. External hassles compete for their time to practice medicine. Prolonged exposure to these factors can lead to burnout wherein doctors no longer feel effective and happy. Burnout develops over the years, but physicians also face the problem of dehumanization in everyday practice.

Dehumanization occurs when doctors view patients as cases rather than as unique individuals. This may happen when physicians are overwhelmed with their workload. To cope, doctors detach themselves when seeing patients.

Burnout and dehumanization can be overcome by reminding yourself of the reasons you entered a career in medicine and by engaging in stress relieving activities.

Needed Change in Current Healthcare System

The current healthcare system is very complex, with too much regulatory constraints that do not bring value to medical professionals or patients. As a consequence, there are many who need medical attention but there are not enough care givers. Treating patients instead of filling out paperwork would be a more effective use of a doctor’s time. We need to bring “care” back into healthcare by letting physicians practice in their field of expertise. The long and exhausting regulatory and administrative processes lessen the impact of healthcare and this needs to change.

Dr. Benz’s Advice to Pre-Med and Medical Students

As we deal with daily stressors, we forget why we were called to become doctors. We take our patients for granted because we have become so accustomed to the heroism in medicine that it no longer becomes meaningful. Look back at the reasons why you entered healthcare to rekindle your passion. Healthcare practitioners must put in regular effort to prevent burnout and dehumanization.

Dr. Benz’s book, Called to Care: A Medical Provider’s Guide for Humanizing Healthcare, describes these issues in great detail and discusses the role of positive psychology in medicine. It is available on the book’s official website and on Amazon. All proceeds will be donated to non-profit organizations.

Erkeda DeRouen

Dr. Erkeda DeRouen is a graduate of Hampton University with a B.S. in Biological Sciences, followed by completing medical school at the Boston University School of Medicine. She then completed residency at The University of Maryland Family and Community Medicine Program. After that, she worked at an underserved community health center, and currently is an Associate Medical Director of a telemedicine company. She recently became one of the first 1,000 lifestyle medicine certified physicians in the world! Her areas of interest include: health equity and eliminating health disparities, service of underserved populations, HIV management, transgender care, mentorship, and lifestyle medicine.

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