Patients with sympathetic doctors are more likely to have a better outcome and fewer complications
Researchers found a link between a physician's empathy for their patient's condition and the patient's outcomes
The study was done by Thomas Jefferson University and Italian researchersThe relationship between diabetic patients and their physicians in Parma, Italy were evaluatedThe results support the beneficial effects of empathy in patient care



19:33 GMT, 11 September 2012

Patients with more sympathetic, understanding doctors have better outcomes and fewer complications, new research suggests.

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Researchers have found that more sympathetic doctors meant their patients had better outcomes and fewer complications

Mohammadreza Hojat, Ph.D., research professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and director of Jefferson Longitudinal Study of Medical Education in the Center for Research in Medical Education and Health Care at Jefferson Medical College said: ‘This new, large-scale research study has confirmed that empathic physician-patient relationships is an important factor in positive outcomes.

‘It takes our hypothesis one step further.

'Compared to our initial study, it has a much larger number of patients and physicians, a different tangible clinical outcome, hospital admission for acute metabolic complications, and a cross-cultural feature that will allow for generalisation of the findings in different cultures, and different health care systems.’

Researchers used the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE) which measures the level of empathy in the context of patient care.

Researchers used the results of two medical tests, the haemoglobin A1c (blood) test and cholesterol levels measurements, and found a direct association between a physian’s JSE and a better control of their patient’s medical results.

Dr Hojat said: ‘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.

Much needed information: The research supports the beneficial effects of empathy in patient care

Much needed information: The research supports the beneficial effects of empathy in patient care

‘These findings also support the recommendations of such professional organisations 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.’

Italian patients and doctors were evaluated because there is universal health care coverage in Italy and there is no confounding effect of difference in insurance, lack of insurance or financial barriers to access care.

‘What's more, this second study was conducted in a health care system in which all residents enrol with a primary care physician resulting in a better defined relationship between the patients and their primary care physicians than what exists in the United States,’ said co-author Daniel Z. Louis, Managing Director for the Center for Research in Medical Education and Health Care and research associate professor of family and community medicine at JMC.

Co-author author Vittorio Maio, PharmD, M.S., MSPH, associate professor at the Jefferson School of Population Health said: ‘Italy has a lower rate of switching doctors, facilitating long-lasting physician patient relationships.’

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 25 million people in America have been diagnosed with diabetes, with almost 700,000 hospitalisations per year.

In the UK, 2,9 million people live with diabetes, up from 1.4 million in 1996.

There are approximately two million new cases per year. Worldwide, the number of total cases jumps to 180 million.