Wilson Mei, Elizabeth Dyer, Barbara Swartzlander, and Marilyn R. Gugliucci
Studies have suggested that empathy in healthcare professionals tends to erode during medical school and residency training. However, a study conducted by Hofat presents outcomes that reveals the opposite effect; instead empathy improves or there is no effect on empathy at all. Despite the contradictory studies, it is generally agreed that empathy is an important aspect in the patient-physician relationship as it is associated with improved patient satisfaction, increased adherence to treatment, and fewer malpractice complaints. This research exposed 346 first year medical students to virtual reality (VR) technology that is intended to elicit empathy for a 74-year-old African American male, Alfred, whom each student embodied to experience what it is like to have macular degeneration and hearing loss. Specifically, pre/post test responses to embodying Alfred were analyzed to determine empathic changes. The VR software, developed by Embodied Labs, Inc., is specifically designed to affect health professions students and staff empathy responses. Results yielded statically significant changes between pre and post assessment across both cohorts of the Alfred Lab.
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