Empathetic physicians promote positive outcomes in patients with diabetes

Positive clinical outcomes for patients with diabetes are significantly associated with physician empathy, which should be considered an important component of clinical competence, according to study results published in American Medicine.

More than 20,900 patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes in the Local Health Authority, Parma, Italy, enrolled with one of 242 primary care physicians throughout 2009 were included in the retrospective correlation study. Participating physicians completed the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE), which includes 20 items, each answered on a seven-point Likert-type scale to measure empathy in the context of medical education and patient care. Researchers compared JSE scores with occurrence of acute metabolic complications in patients with diabetes hospitalized in 2009.

Study results showed that patients of physicians with high empathy scores had a significantly lower rate of acute metabolic complications compared with patients of physicians with moderate and low empathy scores. Physicians’ empathy scores were associated with acute metabolic complications and patients’ age also contributed to the prediction of acute metabolic complications, according to logistic regression analysis. However, physician’s gender and age, patients’ gender, type of practice, geographical location of practice and length of time the patient had been enrolled with the physician were not associated with acute metabolic complications.

“Results of this study confirmed our hypothesis that a validated measure of physician empathy is significantly associated with the incidence of acute metabolic complications in diabetic patients, and provide the much-needed, additional empirical support for the beneficial effects of empathy in patient care,” Mohammadreza Hojat, PhD, research professor of the department of psychiatry and human behavior and director of the Jefferson Longitudinal Study of Medical Education in the Center for Research in Medical Education and Health Care at Jefferson Medical College, said in a press release. “These findings also support the recommendations of such professional organizations as the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Board of Internal Medicine of the importance of assessing and enhancing empathic skills in undergraduate and graduate medical education.”

For more information:

Del Canale S, Louis DZ, Maio V, et al. The relationship between physician empathy and disease complications: an empirical study of primary care physicians and their diabetic patients in Parma, Italy. Acad Med. 2012;87:1243-1249.

Disclosure: Hojat has no relevant financial disclosures.

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