Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Physician empathy may mean better patient outcomes

"For those of us in primary care medicine who have devoted much of our working lives to developing empathic relationships with our patients, research findings of improved patient outcomes among the more empathetic physicians is very gratifying indeed," said one of the study's authors, Fred Markham, MD, a family physician and professor in the Dept. of Family and Community at Thomas Jefferson University Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

In a prepared statement, he said, "We have long believed in the importance of empathy, and finding measurably better outcomes lends support to our attempts to nurture empathetic medical students and residents who will pursue careers in every kind of medical and surgical specialty."

If a physician is more empathetic, it can lead to better understanding and trust between the doctor and patient, said lead study author Mohammadreza Hojat, PhD, a research professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Thomas Jefferson University.

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There are two types of doctors: those who got into it to help people and those who got into it for the money.  I've had both kinds.  The ones who were only in it for the money wrote down the first diagnosis that came to mind (if you're tired, you're automatically depressed, case closed, no reason to do more blood tests).  Those who were in it to help people listened carefully to the symptoms, asked questions to clarify, and were willing to do every blood test under the sun if that would lead to correct diagnosis.

So it's no surprise to me that empathetic doctors, who aren't just spouting nonsense like "all divorced women are depressed", produce better outcomes, because they're not handing off pills that have nothing to do with the illness the patient actually has.


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