Study: Empathetic doctors get better results
Smiling at and making eye contact with your patients could make them healthier. A new study from Thomas Jefferson University Jefferson Medical College found that patients with empathetic doctors did better controlling their diabetes than those with less empathetic physicians.
The 29 physicians in the study were ranked on the Jefferson Scale of Empathy. Those with higher scores had more patients with good control of hemoglobin A1c and LDL cholesterol levels. The study concluded that physician empathy was a “unique and significant contributor” to the prediction of good control among the nearly 900 patients studied.
The findings are significant, says co-author Richard Wender, MD, professor and chair of the department of family and community medicine at Jefferson Medical College. He offers three theories as to why empathetic doctors might get better results.
- Empathy might establish a higher level of trust and confidence between doctor and patient and thus encourage the patient to follow a treatment plan.
- Empathetic doctors might be better at assessing patient barriers to care and adjust their communications accordingly.
- Empathetic doctors might feel more responsible to patients and could work harder to achieve goals.
The president of the American Academy of Family Physicians offers a fourth theory. “It’s a communication issue,” says Roland Goertz, MD. “I think empathy- minded physicians communicate better.”
Empathy has been linked to patient satisfaction, but this is one of the first studies to tie it to clinical outcomes.
Wender says researchers chose diabetes because treatment success is largely up to the patient: “The patient is in control of the extent to which they are willing to make changes in their lifestyle,” he says. He adds that he plans to extend the research to see whether doctor empathy can affect such procedures as cancer screening.
The study is available here.