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GPs urged to take unemotional approach to reduce burnout risk

GPs may be able to lower their risk of burnout if they are able to understand things from a patient’s perspective in an unemotional way, researchers have suggested.

The study - published in BMC Family Practice - found GPs appeared to be protected from emotional exhaustion if they scored high on a measure of ‘perspective-taking’ as well as being highly empathetic.

A Canadian team from the University of Montreal surveyed 294 French GPs on their feelings of burn-out using the 22-item Maslach Burnout Inventory).

The researchers then also measured the GPs’ degree of ‘perspective taking’, using a standardised self-assessment questionnaire of cognitive empathy that takes into account three components - perspective-taking, compassionate care and standing in the patients’ shoes’, as well as their levels of ‘empathic concern’, using a standard questionnaire of affective empathy that captures a single measure of empathy as a primarily emotional process.

After taking into account marital status – as living alone can increase the risk of burn-out – the team found having higher or lower empathic concern had no influence over burn-out if the GP’s perspective taking score was low.

But if GPs’ perspective taking was high, then their risk of burnout was lower - particularly where their levels of empathic concern were also high.

‘One plausible explanation for this interaction is that empathic concern would be more beneficial to physicians when perspective taking is also high,’ the authors wrote.

‘In other words, it is when physicians are good at adopting the point of view of their patients that their emotional reaction and pro-social helping behaviours reduce the effect of exposure to stress.’

They suggested GPs should receive training in ‘emotion regulation’, as ‘without these skills physicians’ emotion sharing with patients could lead to professionals’ personal distress and burn-out.’

Pulse showed last year that almost half of GPs are at risk of burnout and a recent DH-commissioned paper showing GPs are suffering the highest levels of stress recorded since 1998.


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Readers' comments (10)

  • Just what the Daily Wail ordered ! How about arrogant dismissive and disinterested as well. Surely we can aspire to such things...

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  • Vinci Ho

    All is very well said from a theoretical point of view .......

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  • If I switched my brain every 10 min to see perspective from Pt's point of view in an empathic way, my brain will burn out never mind the emotional burn out!

    Have these researcher experienced what a normal GP surgery is like before making such recommendation?

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  • Took Early Retirement

    I just did the test and scored 23!

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  • A less paternalistic approach might help all round - GPs aren't God and patients do have brains of their own. I think a lot this is GP self-interest and the need for approval.

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  • people like things to be patient centred when it suits them. if there are any problems all of a sudden they want the gp to be paternalistic (so that they can blame him/her). you simply cant please people these days. also @4:23 please stop trolling

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  • look the elephant in the room is patients - they are a cause of the stress as quite frankly a significant proportion are manipulative and abusive but we have to be nice to them as we don't want to hurt their feelings - this isn't right or fair.You can't go to barclays bank and say 'I effing want this or that' the police would be called and you are likely to be banned from that branch but in the nhs I have to be empathic as the patient may have had a bad day or have a 'personality disorder'! zero tolerance is a joke as you are never supported by management.

    Add in that almost all patients 'have their rights cos they pay our wages' and the expectation of perfect care. Patients are also keen to complain at the drop of a hat. I have lost faith in the NHS and leadership to tackle demand and enforce responsibility onto patients.

    It is time to go and develop private practices where we are paid directly by patients for our time and service like solicitors, dentists and virtually every other professional job in society. We can then choose our patients, control list size, and alter our rate as per supply/demand. We will be more respected as a profession and less stressed as we will have more control over our workload. Patients will then know they are paying a qualified professional for advice and treatment and can spend all day with me (as long as they pay for it). I no longer believe free at the point of use healthcare should be a 'right' due to the blatant abuse by the public.

    sort out the public and you will be part of the way on sorting out stress!

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  • 07.57. Beautifully put. I agree entirely.

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  • RE 07.57, also agree.

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  • we dont need emotion regulation to prevent usual peripheral rubbish purporting to help we need MORE GPS..END OF....what a lunatic reactionary idea..of course the public wants more distant unempathetic gps..pathetic nonsense.
    agree 4.23 a troll.

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