Doctor Empathy a Factor in Diabetes Care
People with Type 2 diabetes may be healthier if they have a doctor who shows high levels of empathy.
Researchers studied 20,961 diabetes patients in Parma, Italy, and tested 242 of their primary care physicians for empathy with a well-validated questionnaire that measures the doctor’s understanding of the patient’s experiences, concerns and perspectives, as well as the ability to communicate this understanding to the patient.
In the study, published in the September issue of Academic Medicine, the researchers divided the doctors’ empathy scores into high, moderate and low. Then they tracked the occurrence of acute metabolic complications — hyperglycemia, radically low insulin production and diabetic coma — in the patients.
The doctors’ age or sex had no effect on the frequency of complications, nor did the patient’s sex, the type and location of the practice, or the length of time the patient had known the physician. But the rate of complications among the patients of the most empathetic doctors was about two-thirds that of patients whose doctors scored lower on the questionnaire.
Daniel Z. Louis, an author of the study and a research associate professor of family and community medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, said compassion was a significant factor in good health care. “Physician empathy should be considered an important component of clinical competency,” he said.