Physician empathy biggest factor in patient satisfaction

To improve patient satisfaction physicians must show empathy toward their patients and make sure their staff provide effective communication and good customer service, according to a new study.

The perception that their physicians were empathetic was the biggest factor in patients' satisfaction, the study, which was presented at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, found. The study linked a patient's perceived physician empathy with improved outcomes and medical care satisfaction, according to an announcement. 

Researchers asked 112 new patients at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston to rate their personal interaction with their hand surgeon who worked in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Sixty-five percent of patient satisfaction was attributed to physician empathy, the study found. Factors that did not affect patient satisfaction included the wait time for an appointment, wait time in the office, time with the surgeon, resident/fellow involvement, whether patients were seeking a second opinion, health literacy, or treatment choice, the report said.

"This study shows that physician empathy is the best opportunity to improve the patient experience," David Ring, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon who led the study, said in the announcement. "In prior studies, we've had trouble determining what specifically contributes to patient satisfaction, so a finding that empathy explains 65 percent of the variation in satisfaction is really powerful."

Physicians can be coached and learn to practice more effective empathetic communication strategies, Ring added. They can also make sure their staff members are trained in effective communication and customer service. With patient satisfaction and patient reported outcomes increasingly tied to healthcare reimbursement, that effort is worthwhile.

Physicians who focus on being compassionate and empathetic also are likely to get positive online reviews from their patients, FiercePracticeManagement previously reported. And the good news is that patients are increasingly happy with their office visits, according to an online Harris Poll.

One invaluable way to make sure patients feel cared about is to ask them about it, and some practices are creating a formal patient advisory board to get feedback.

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