Improving the quality of communication between doctors and their patients and colleagues is of vital importance. Poor communication, especially within and across clinical teams working around patients in pathways of care, leads to avoidable medical error, where an unacceptable number of patients are severely harmed or die each year. The figures from such iatrogenesis have now reached epidemic proportions, constituting one of the major killers of patients worldwide. Despite 30 years' worth of explicit attention to teaching communication skills at undergraduate level, communication in medicine is failing to improve at an acceptable rate. The authors suggest a rather unusual approach to this dilemma of ‘communication hypocompetence’—thinking medicine lyrically—as an extension of thinking with Homer's little-discussed lyrical aesthetic. A key part of the problem of communication hypocompetence is the well-researched phenomenon of ‘empathy decline’ in students, where ‘hardening’ and cynicism occur as over-determined ego defences. Empathy decline may be a symptom of the repression of the lyrical genre in medicine, where the epic, tragic and dark comic genres dominate. The lyrical genre emphasises coming to know the patient as a person and an individual. Importantly, central to performing the lyric genre is the heightened use of the senses in taking a history, physical examination and diagnostic work. Framing medicine as lyrical work challenges undue emphasis on ‘cure’ at the expense of humane ‘care’.
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Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned, externally peer reviewed.
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