Asking this question will ease patients’ suffering

Panoramic view of doctor with elderly hospice patient

A new essay in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests physicians ask “What’s the worst part of this for you?” when speaking to patients about their pain or negative health experiences. This was the conclusion of researchers Ron Epstein, PhD and Anthony Back, MD after a review of scientific literature about how doctors respond to suffering.

Since doctors are trained to diagnose and treat health problems, they do not always focus on responding to the suffering their patients are experiencing. Epstein and Back say that asking patients about the worst part of their pain simultaneously offers compassion and helps to identify the patient’s goals for improvement.

The literature review was funded by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation’s “Mapping the Landscape, Journeying Together” initiative, which funds reviews of topics in humanism in healthcare as well as projects based on those literature reviews.

Epstein and Back’s work was featured in:

timeThe One Question You Really Want Your Doctor to Ask: “People visit their doctors to be healed, but that’s often more complicated than fixing an ailing body part. Addressing a person’s whole range of suffering…”


washington-postThe Simple Way Doctors Can Make Their Patients Feel Understood: “How often have you gone to doctors and had the following happen: They truly listen. They ask about the worst part of your pain. They walk with you from the exam room…”