Empathy Unsurprisingly Linked with Better Patient Outcomes

March 11, 2011

Patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes are two interlinked topics that are always top of mind for U.S. doctors. Lately, we’re seeing more evidence that having personable qualities such as empathy and a friendly demeanor improve both.

Patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes are two interlinked topics that are always top of mind for U.S. doctors. And in the past week or so, we’re seeing more evidence that having personable qualities such as empathy and a friendly demeanor improve both. 

In a recent study by Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, physicians' sympathy and compassion with patients was linked to the success of their treatment of patients with diabetes.

Prior to the study, which followed 891 diabetic patients treated between 2006 and 2009 by 29 doctors at the school's department of family and community medicine, each of the physicians underwent a standardized test called the Jefferson Scale of Empathy. The test was developed in 2001 to measure physicians’ empathy in the context of patient care.

"Our results show that physicians with high empathy scores had better clinical outcomes than other physicians with lower scores," said Mohammadreza Hojat, a research professor at Jefferson Medical College, in a press release accompanying the study, which is published in the March issue of the journal Academic Medicine.

According to the study, patients in the care of physicians with higher empathy scores were better able to control their blood sugar and cholesterol levels than those with lower scores. Researchers concluded that empathy in patient care contributes to higher patient satisfaction, trust, and compliance, and ultimately more desirable clinical outcomes.

Though such findings are not shocking, they’re interesting to take a look at, perhaps even show to the other physicians at your practice.

With so many financial and regulatory pressures affecting today’s small practices, it’s nice to know that a smile and an empathetic attitude can go a long way.

What is your practice doing to improve patient outcomes? Post your comments below.