How does physician empathy affect patient outcomes?

It is not just a “nice bonus” to have a humanistic physician; it actually improves your health.  Here are five studies that demonstrate that a doctor’s empathy level is related to patient outcomes:

  1. In a study of over 700 clinical encounters with patients who had the common cold, those patients who gave their clinician a perfect empathy score reported that their colds were less severe and lasted fewer days than patients who gave their clinicians less-than-perfect empathy scores.  In addition to their self-report of feeling better, these patients also showed a higher change in  both nasal neutrophils and the cytokine, IL-8.   See study
  2. In a study of 710 cancer patients in Germany, physician empathy was positively associated with improvement in patient-reported outcomes of depression and quality of life. See study
  3. In a study of over 20,000 patients with diabetes mellitus, researchers found that patients of physicians with high empathy scores (compared with patients of physicians with moderate and low empathy scores) had a significantly lower rate of acute metabolic complications. See study
  4. In a study of almost 900 diabetic patients, researchers found that patients of physicians with high empathy scores (compared to physicians with low empathy scores) were significantly more likely to have good control of hemoglobin A1c and good LDL-C control.  See study
  5. In a study of 185 patients being treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), therapeutic empathy had a “moderate-to-large causal effect on recovery from depression.” See study