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Patient satisfaction is an important component of any enduring Physician-Patient relationship. Assuring that a patient is satisfied with their care is beneficial to not only the patient but the Physician. A good relationship can lead to better treatment outcomes and less liability claims. While many factors like quality of care and cost influence a patient's feeling of satisfaction, did you know that certain Physician characteristics can also influence these feelings? Physicians that exhibit higher levels of empathy are viewed more favorably by patients than those that do not.
Heading to the doctor's office can be an anxiety-provoking experience for many patients. These feelings can create obstacles to their seeking care, so a reassuring presence in the clinic can make a world of difference. Patients that perceive Physicians as being empathic report lower levels of anxiety and stress when they are receiving care(1). This decrease in patient anxiety can translate into a more open and enjoyable provider relationship.
Empathetic Physicians also increase a patient's interest in getting involved in their own care(1). These physicians create an environment that empowers their patients. Such empowered patients feel less helpless and more involved in their own care. This involvement promotes increased patient satisfaction levels.
An essential part of any good relationship involves listening to the other party. The Physician-Patient relationship is no different. A common complaint of patients is that they feel like they are not being heard and that their opinions don't matter. Empathetic Physicians provide patients with a sense that their opinions and feelings are important. If patients feel empowered and perceive that their opinions are being heard regarding their care, treatment outcomes are better(1).
Empathetic Physicians are more likely to have patients that feel comfortable with them(2). This increased level of comfort allows patients to have frank discussions about some of life's more "embarrassing" health topics and creates a more approachable Physician.
Providing care for another individual is a great responsibility. Patients trust that providers are knowledgeable and have their best interests at heart when it comes to their medical care. This requires a level of trust that is only strengthened when a patient feels understood and cared for by an empathetic Physician.
(1) Derksen, F., et al (2013). Effectiveness of empathy in general practice: a systematic review Br J Gen Pract; 63 (606): e76-e84. DOI: 10.3399/bjgp13X660814
(2) Chiapponi C, Witt M, Dlugosch GE, Gülberg V, Siebeck M (2016) The Perception of Physician Empathy by Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. PLoS ONE 11(11): e0167113. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0167113