A doctor’s bedside manner can not only make patients feel better, but it may also affect their overall health, recovery, and odds of suffering complications.
That’s the conclusion of a large new study of the impact of a physician's empathy on the success of patients’ treatment. An international team of researchers, led by Thomas Jefferson University health experts, found patients of doctors who are more sensitive have better outcomes and fewer complications.
The findings, published in the journal Academic Medicine, are based on an analysis of 20,961 diabetic patients and 242 physicians in Italy. The results confirmed the findings of a smaller, earlier study of 891 diabetic patients and 29 physicians that found patients of physicians with high empathy scores had better clinical outcomes than patients of physicians with lower scores. SPECIAL: These 4 Things Happen Right Before a Heart Attack — Read More.
"This new, large-scale research study has confirmed that empathic physician-patient relationships is an important factor in positive outcomes," said researcher Mohammadreza Hojat. "It takes our hypothesis one step further. Compared to our initial study, it has a much larger number of patients and physicians."
For the study, researchers surveyed diabetic patients in Parma, Italy, about their experiences with primary care physicians. They also tracked the overall health of the study participants — including the rate of metabolic complications and coma. The results showed physicians with higher empathy scores had fewer patients with acute metabolic complications and hospital admissions.
"Results of this study confirmed our hypothesis that a validated measure of physician empathy is significantly associated with the incidence of acute metabolic complications in diabetic patients, and provide the much-needed, additional empirical support for the beneficial effects of empathy in patient care" said Hojat. "These findings also support the recommendations of such professional organizations as the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Board of Internal Medicine of the importance of assessing and enhancing empathic skills in undergraduate and graduate medical education."