A new study published recently suggests that patients do better and are more satisfied with their care if they believe their doctor is empathetic. Researchers asked 112 patients, average age 51, to rate their dealings with their surgeon. The results showed that doctor empathy accounted for 65 percent of patient satisfaction.
Patient satisfaction was not influenced by wait time for an appointment or wait time in the office, time spent with the surgeon, resident/fellow involvement, whether or not patients were seeking a second opinion, patients' health knowledge or type of treatment.
Good medical skills are important but "this study shows that physician empathy is the best opportunity to improve the patient experience," said principal investigator Dr. David Ring, of the department of orthopedic surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"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," he added.
Empathetic doctors seem to understand what their patient is going through. Doctors can be coached to show more empathy, Ring said. It also helps if they have staffers who excel in communication and customer service, he added.