The BATHE Technique: Dealing with Patients' Emotions

Physician Talking to Patient in Bed While physicians choose to specialize in different areas of medicine, and focus on different parts of the body and disease states, all physicians deal with many different kinds and levels of emotion displayed by their patients. Thus, diagnosing and treating a patient does not occur in a vacuum –diagnoses and treatment plans impact not only the patient’s physical life but also their emotional well-being. And, dealing with emotions can sometimes be tricky and time-consuming.

I recently came across a nice acronym to help physicians address emotional issues with patients in an organized and efficient manner. If you haven’t already heard of BATHE, and/or incorporated it into your practice, read on.

According to my research, I believe BATHE was first described in The Fifteen Minute Hour by Marian R. Stuart, PhD and Joseph A. Lieberman III, MD. Today, I will be describing it based on a post by Richard Rathe, MD, entitled, “Responding to Emotions (BATHE).”

So, what does BATHE stand for?

B: Background
A: Affect
T: Troubles
H: Handling
E: Empathy

Let’s take a minute to expound on each one in more detail.

Background: First, ask the patient to describe the situation in a few sentences. Do not get into detail here.

Affect: Second, ask the patient how the situation makes him or her feel. Help the patient name an emotion, if necessary. Are they angry, scared, frustrated, sad, etc?

Troubles: Third, ask what troubles the patient the most about the situation. This is often the reason behind the emotion, and may not be what you expect! Never assume, always ask.

Handling: Fourth, ask how the patient is handling the situation. If possible, offer the patient options for handling the situation and help the patient identify one (or more) positive thing(s) he or she can do to respond to the situation.

Empathy: Fifth, express your understanding of the situation and support and reinforce the patient’s plan for handling the situation.

Not all emotional interactions with patients can be neat and tidy, but hopefully BATHE will help to address many of your patients’ emotions and help them to leave feeling heard, satisfied, and more in control.

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