Objective: To develop the hypothesis that reductionism in medical anthropology, professional education and health care influences empathy development, communication and patient satisfaction.
Method: We identified relevant literature and reviewed the material in a structured essay. We reflected our hypothesis by applying it to Anthroposophic Medicine (AM), an example of holistic theory and practice.
Results: Reductionism in medical anthropology such as in conventional medicine seems to lead to a less empathetic and less communicative health care culture than holism such as in CAM disciplines. However, reductionism can be transformed into a systemic, multi-perspective holistic view, when the emergent properties of the physical, living, psychic, spiritual and social levels of human existence and the causal relations between them are more carefully accounted for in epistemology, medical anthropology and professional education. This is shown by the example of AM and its possible benefits for communication with and satisfaction of patients.
Conclusion: A non-reductionistic understanding of the human being may improve communication with patients and enhance patient benefit and satisfaction.
Practice implications: Interdisciplinary qualitative and quantitative studies are warranted to test this hypothesis and to understand the complex relations between epistemology, medical anthropology, education, health care delivery and benefit for patients.
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