Study: Empathy integral to physician competence

Yet another study seems to have confirmed the relationship between physician empathy and positive clinical outcomes.

For this study, published in the March issue of Academic Medicine, researchers from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia focused on 891 diabetic patients, treated between July 2006 and June 2009, by 29 physicians in the school's department of family and community medicine. The physicians each were assigned an 'empathy score' based on their completion of the Jefferson Scale of Empathy JSE, a standardized test developed in 2001 to measure empathy in the context of medical education and patient care.

Researchers then linked those results to each of the patient's hemoglobin A1c and LDL cholesterol levels.

Confirming the team's hypothesis, patients of physicians with high empathy scores were significantly more likely to have good control over their blood sugar as well as cholesterol, while the inverse was true for patients of physicians with low scores.

Study author Mohammadreza Hojat, PhD, and colleagues concluded that empathic engagement in patient care leads to better clinical outcomes by increasing patient satisfaction, trust and compliance.

"These findings, if confirmed by larger-scale research, suggest that empathy should be viewed as an integral component of a physician's competence," Hojat said in a statement.

Gary Rodin, MD, an oncologist at the University Health Network in Toronto, told the Montreal Gazette that the success of diabetes treatment can be particularly affected by a doctor's empathy.

"Empathy and communication are tied together, and those allow a more collaborative relationship with the patient. So it's not surprising that if you're trying to work with a patient on better diabetes control, and establish a more collaborative relationship you'll be working together toward the same goal."

To learn more:
- read the press release from Thomas Jefferson University
- see this article in the Montreal Gazette
- here's the abstract of the study in Academic Medicine