Physician empathy and perspective taking protect against burnout

Doctor Talking To Male Patient In Hospital RoomThis post is part of our series of Research Roundups — a list of recently published studies on humanism in medicine. If you would like to be notified each time a Research Roundup is published, send an email to with the subject line “Subscribe RR”.

To be or not to be empathic: the combined role of empathic concern and perspective taking in understanding burnout in general practice
Lamothe M, Boujut E, Zenasni F, Sultan S.    BMC Fam Pract. 2014 Jan 23;15(1):15. 
This is the first study to explore the interaction of cognitive and affective empathy to explain burnout in general practice. Researchers used the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy, and the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire in a survey of almost 300 physicians.  They found that deficits in perspective taking skills might be a risk factor for burnout, and that higher skills in perspective taking and empathic concern may be protective against burnout.

A systematic review of evidence on the links between patient experience and clinical safety and effectiveness
Doyle C, Lennox L, Bell D.    BMJ Open. 2013 Jan 3;3(1).
A systematic review of 55 studies demonstrates positive associations between patient experience and self-rated and objectively measured health outcomes; adherence to recommended clinical practice and medication; preventive care (such as health-promoting behaviour, use of screening services and immunisation); and resource use (such as hospitalisation, length of stay and primary-care visits). Authors suggest that clinicians should resist sidelining patient experience as too subjective or mood-oriented, divorced from the ‘real’ clinical work of measuring safety and effectiveness.

Burnout Among U.S. Medical Students, Residents, and Early Career Physicians Relative to the General U.S. Population
Dyrbye LN, West CP, Satele D, Boone S, Tan L, Sloan J, Shanafelt TD.   Acad Med. 2014 Jan 20.
In a national survey of medical students, residents/fellow, early career physicians and the general public, researchers found that training was the peak time for distress among physicians. They also found that at each of these career stages, burnout was more prevalent among physicians than among their peers in the general population. 

Dynamic modeling of patient and physician eye gaze to understand the effects of electronic health records on doctor-patient communication and attention
Montague E, Asan O.    Int J Med Inform. 2014 Mar;83(3):225-34.
100 patient visits were observed and video recorded in a primary care clinic. Videos were then coded for the different patterns of where patients and physicians were looking. Results showed that doctors looked at patients for 46% of the visit, at the electronic health record for 30% of the visit, and at paper charts for 9% of the visit.  Patients looked at the doctor for 50% of the visit and at the electronic health record for 11% of the visit.

Operationalizing professionalism: A meaningful and practical integration for resident education
Nichols BG, Nichols LM, Poetker DM, Stadler ME.  Laryngoscope. 2014 Jan;124(1):110-5.
A literature review of 67 articles from the past 30 years showed that once professional expectations are defined, multiple methods should be used to comprehensively evaluate the learner. Research also showed that professionalism is taught most effectively through multiple modalities including mentorship, faculty role modeling, self-reflection, and resident professionalism portfolios.

And a publication from one of our Gold Professors, Sigall Bell:

Speaking up about the dangers of the hidden curriculum
Liao JM, Thomas EJ, Bell SK.    Health Aff (Millwood). 2014 Jan;33(1):168-71.
A medical student’s fear of raising questions endangered a patient.  Here, as a resident, he explores the dangers of this hidden curriculum with his advisers.


Brandy King

This post was written by Brandy King, Head of Information Services at The Arnold P. Gold Foundation Research Institute




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