General Physician; In this study patients who have diagnosed with diabetes are at a lower risk of early death if they have a doctor who they describe as showing empathy towards them, a new study from the University of Cambridge has found. Empathy is an important concept within healthcare and as such is emphasised in policy, codes of practice, national clinical guidance and medical training.
It is also a high priority for patients. In a healthcare context, empathy refers to care that incorporates understanding; hence of the patient perspective, share decision making between patient and practitioner; also consideration of the broader context in which illness is experienced.
Public health priority
Optimising management of diabetes is a public health priority give the growing prevalence of the disease. Type 2 diabetes affects around 4 million people in the UK; also is with significant risk of death from heart disease and stroke and with early death. Type 2 diabetes is estimate to cost the UK over £9billion annually, 10% of the UK NHS budget.
Researchers at Cambridge follow up 867 individuals across 49 general practices; so in the UK as part of the ADDITION-Cambridge study to examine the association between primary care practitioner (GP and nurse) empathy and incidence of cardiovascular disease events (such as heart attack and stroke) or death.
The results of the study are publish today in the Annals of Family Medicine. Of the 628 participants who complete the questionnaire; so just under one in five (19%) experience a cardiovascular disease event; also a similar number (21%) died during follow up from causes including cancer and heart attack.
The general physician
Those patients reporting better experiences of empathy in the first 12 months after diagnosis had a significantly lower risk (40-50%) of death over the subsequent 10 years compare to those who experience low practitioner empathy. Participants experiencing better empathy also tend to have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease events, although this was not statistically significant.
“In trying to manage the growing burden of chronic preventable disease, we’re increasingly moving towards precision healthcare, target-driven care and technology base assessment; hence while at the same time focusing less on the human, interpersonal empathic aspects of care,” says Dr. Hajira Dambha-Miller, a General Physician and researcher at the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge.
The researchers say there are several possible explanations for the association between greater empathy and better health outcomes. Previous studies have suggest that patients with lower levels of anxiety or those with an optimistic outlook (and who are more likely to report better perceptions of care), are also likely to live for longer.
They say it is also possible that GPs with empathic; so patient centred skills may be more likely to succeed in promoting positive behavioural change such as medication adherence or physical activity. Previous studies have also report that greater practitioner empathy is with higher patient motivation towards activation; so enablement and self-management of disease. Practitioner empathy may also reflect the doctor’s listening ability; also the trust of the patient in disclosing what is really wrong so that it can be addressed.