Patient Family & Community Engagement | Global Perspective

Listening as medicine: A thematic analysis

Realizations of the importance of “the art of medicine” in trust-building and patient satisfaction have resulted in the incorporation of narrative medicine programs into training curricula. By learning how to respond to patient stories as well as communicate their own, healthcare providers can ensure that their patients feel heard and respected. This study seeks to define what constitutes empathetic listening through a qualitative analysis of personal narratives collected from patients, caregivers, and providers across an urban academic healthcare system. Stories (n=41) underwent thematic analysis to note common experiences related to listening during a health system encounter. Eighteen grounded codes were identified which were abstracted to the following five themes: (1) connection and trust, (2) emotion and vulnerability, (3) objectives and experiences, (4) interaction and opportunity, and (5) challenges of listening. The most common theme of “connection and trust” indicated that active listening and person-centered care were key drivers of patient satisfaction and medical adherence. Encouraging patients and providers to become more comfortable verbalizing vulnerability also provided emotional relief. Taking the time to listen to patient needs and values advanced shared-decision making and facilitated the establishment of care objectives. Storytellers also conveyed the challenges inherent to the listening process. By helping to define empathetic listening, these results may enable the development of healthcare training programs centered on improving clinician communication and patient experience. We hope this study encourages future research devoted to quantifying subjective features such as “connection and trust” and “emotion and vulnerability” utilizing psychometrically validated instruments.