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How emotional intelligence can enhance the provider-patient relationship


“Fostering emotional intelligence among providers supports the provision of high-quality and compassionate care,” writes Adele M. Caruso, DNP, CRNP.

Dr. Caruso, a Urology Times blogger, is a nurse practitioner at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, Philadelphia.


Communication between providers and patients is essential for an optimal patient experience. A key to such encounters is emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence (EI)? In the 1990s, the term was described by two psychology professors, John D. Mayer, PhD, of the University of New Hampshire and Peter Salovey, PhD, of Yale University as the ability to accurately perceive emotions in oneself and others, the ability to understand these emotions in the context of the relationship, the ability to facilitate reasoning, and the ability to manage emotions in oneself in emotional situations (Mayer, John D. and Salovey, Peter. “What is emotional intelligence?” Emotional development and emotional: educational implications. Ed. Peter Salovey, Ed. David J. Sluyter. New York: Basic Books, 1997. 3-31. Print.) It is reasonable to assume that familiarity, if not mastery of EI, is a major component of successful provider-patient encounters.

What comprises emotional intelligence

EI integrates the domains of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. The domains incorporate 12 competencies, or learned or learnable capabilities that allow for an outstanding performance. For example, self-management includes emotional self-control and adaptability, and social awareness incorporates empathy and organizational awareness.

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There are a number of formal EI models. The most useful models include comprehensive 360-degree assessments that collect self-ratings and views of others who know you well (Surg Endosc 2017; 31:3565-73). EI is a concept embraced by businesspeople, educators, and yes, medical professionals. It is particularly significant as a part of our professional education, as it may promote compassionate, safe, and high-quality care.

Next: EI and the Myers-Briggs personality test


EI and the Myers-Briggs personality test

The well-known Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is based on Carl Jung’s descriptions of psychological types and suggests that human behavior is shaped by three sets of preferences: (Jung, Carl. Psychological Types. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971. Print.) orienting to the world (Extroversion or Introversion), collecting information (Sensing or Intuition), or making decisions (Thinking or Feeling). Myers and Briggs added the fourth preference, the style in which we like to live our lives (Judging or Perceiving) (Myers, Isabel Briggs and Myers, Peter B. Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type. Mountain View, CA: Davies-Black Publishing, 1980. Print; Richmond, Sharon Leibovitz. Introduction to Myers-Briggs Type and Leadership. Sunnyvale, CA: CPP, 2015. Print.)

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This questionnaire measures aspects of personality about your understanding of emotions and feelings as they relate to different aspects called emotional competencies, with each of us having our own unique compilation. Awareness of one’s personality type and communication style may facilitate an effective dialogue and avoid poor communication, a common source of patient dissatisfaction.

Providers and EI

Those who nurture EI in nursing and medicine have the potential to improve the overall quality of their practice. Awareness of psychological type may help in characterizing differences and similarities in how patients process information regularly discussed in provider-patient encounters (Med Educ 2004; 38:177-86). More accurate communication translates into a better patient experience and may result in improved patient outcomes. If EI improves communication, individually or at the team level, then this may positively affect patient safety.

Can EI be taught?

Research confirms that effective leaders in both nursing and medicine have better-than-average EI and qualities of self-awareness, self-management, and empathy (Am J Nurs 2017; 117:58-62). This is important in situations where a patient is coming to the clinic for guidance as well as information. Doctoral nursing programs and medical education are now incorporating EI assessments as part of their curriculum, and there is value in equipping our next generation with this skill (Postgrad Med J 2017; 93:509-11).

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Fostering EI among providers supports the provision of high-quality and compassionate care. Ideally, challenges in the clinical environment can be approached in an emotionally intelligent manner. As providers are increasingly confronted with initiatives to improve quality of care, proficiency in this area may improve daily interactions and ultimately overall provider performance.

Next: The electronic medical record's role


The electronic medical record’s role

Recently, researchers from the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia published their findings using the SALTED pneumonic and technique (Set-up, Ask, Listen, Type, Exceptions, Documentation). They concluded that a simple intervention providing specialized training in EMR-specific documentation can improve a medical student’s empathetic engagement, history taking, and communication skills (Acad Med 2017; 92:1022-7). I believe this may be a valuable tool for which providers should to be acquainted and a technique to be considered in daily practice.

Patient experience and communication

In a heavily content-laden age, patients require a component of empathy. There is value in allowing patients to “tell their story” and express themselves. Just giving them those few extra moments can make the difference in the apprehensive patient.

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Can our best emotionally intelligent self adequately assess the patient during an encounter and give direction in a caring way? I would say yes.

I believe we can achieve a culture of caring. Good communication, empathy, and the demonstration of EI can optimize the patient experience.

As always, please feel free to share your perspective by emailing me at UT@advanstar.com or posting a comment below.

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