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Empathising with your patients makes them better

By Nigel Praities

Showing empathy to patients may not only increase satisfaction scores, but could also help improve clinical outcomes.

A US study has found that the empathy shown by a doctor is significantly associated with the duration, severity and immune response to upper respiratory tract infections.

The research – presented at the North American Primary Care Research Group conference in Puerta Rico – found patients whose doctors scored highly on the empathy CARE questionnaire had infections that lasted 7.1 days, compared with 8.0 days for those with less understanding doctors.

High empathy scores were also significantly related to lower severity of illness and to high levels of the immune marker IL-6, even when adjusted for possible confounders.

Study leader Professor Bruce Barrett, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin, said empathy was highly underrated but was more accepted as important by GPs than specialists.

Reassurance can reduce stress, enhance positive expectation, reduce negative emotion and positively influence the mind-body's ability to self-heal,' he said.

Dr Dermot Ryan, a member of the General Practice Airways Group and a GP in Loughborough, Leicestershire, said the study was ‘fascinating' and had real implications for the way the Government was running the NHS.

‘It does not surprise me that the feeling of wellbeing that a patient gets from a consultation could lead to far fewer interventions, fewer investigations and fewer hospitalisations and is represented by a inflammatory mediators in the body.

‘This shows the most important drug doctors have is themselves,' he said.

Previous research has shown better patient-doctor communication results can ease blood pressure, anxiety scores and resolution of headache.

Show them you care: patients' health can depend on a GP's empathy Show them you care: patients' health can depend on a GP's empathy

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