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Empathy key in caring for patients

March 22, 2016

Health care researcher Richard Frankel.

Richard Frankel of the School of Medicine will deliver this year's Last Lecture in the Campus Center Theater.

Richard M. Frankel knows from personal experience how critical it is for health care professionals to understand the importance of empathy in caring for patients: It was the unexpected death of his mother that drove home that point for him.

On April 1, Frankel will emphasize the role of empathy and effective communication with patients and their family members during the 2016 Last Lecture in the Campus Center Theater.

The Last Lecture series was launched in 2009 as part of IUPUI's celebration of its 40th anniversary. It offers the university community an opportunity to hear reflections on life's lessons and meaning from a current or retired IUPUI colleague of exceptional merit. Among past presenters are Dr. Robert Einterz, Sheila Suess Kennedy, David Stocum, Oner Yurtseven, James A. Lemons, Angela Barron McBride and Jan Shipps. Three of those – Stocum, Yurtseven and McBride – are former deans of schools based on campus. Frankel is a professor of medicine and geriatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

The Office of Academic Affairs, the IUPUI Senior Academy and the IU Foundation sponsor the Last Lecture.

During his presentation, which begins at 2 p.m., Frankel will focus on the wisdom he has gained during his career, his passion for empathy and the role it can play in health care. He will reflect on his 35-year personal and professional journey as a health services researcher and family member seeking to understand how empathic communication between physicians and patients has immediate and downstream effects on the quality and outcomes of health care on both sides of the stethoscope.

His interest was kindled in 1979, "when I lost my mother suddenly due to a preventable communication error involving the delivery of diagnostic information by her physician," Frankel said. "It was devastating, and it transformed my interest in communication theory to one of urgent practical importance."

Because of his own experiences, Frankel's determination to improve communication between physicians and patients has been both personal and scholarly.

As director of a palliative care research-and-education program at Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, Frankel has researched clinician-patient communication and its effects on quality and safety, the effects of exam-room computing on physician-patient communication, and effective organization-change strategies.

Reservations for the Last Lecture are required. RSVP online by March 25. For questions, contact the Office of Academic Affairs at oaa@iupui.edu or 317-274-4500.

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