Empathy in the Physician-Patient Relationship

Empathy in Clinical Practice

Research by Mohammadreza Hojat, Ph.D. and Joseph Gonnella, M.D. provides compelling evidence of the role physician empathy plays in improving health outcomes. Their research investigated the relationship between physician empathy and the clinical markers of diabetic patients. Findings show the higher the empathy score of the physician, the more patients they had within normal clinical markers. Click here to read the published study

A second study compared the number of admissions into the hospital of diabetic patients as a result of complications in the management of their disease and the empathy score of their physician. The findings revealed the higher the empathy score of the physician, the fewer the admissions of their patients into the hospital.

These findings are compelling because the patient population has a chronic disease that requires the modification, control, and management of behavior by the patient over time. We contend it is the patient’s relationship with the physician, via empathy driven influence, that enhances the patient’s capacity to modify and manage their behavior over time to benefit their health and well-being.

Empathy in Medical Education

To do OMT properly and effectively, one must learn how to touch someone therapeutically with intent to provide comfort and help. One must further learn how to be touched in the same way and to converse with the patient to earn the privilege to influence them and their health. It is our contention that Empathy is the mechanism to creating influence with the patient.

Learning OMT may contribute to a competency in human engagement that enables the patient to grant the physician the privilege of influence with greater ease, and the physician to express a form of humility towards and an acceptance of the patient they translate as Empathy.

Notably, while each DO school has an organized curriculum to teach OMT, the teaching of how to converse with the patient during OMT is taught primarily through the apprentice model of learning by the OMM faculty. The Osteopathic apprentice model of teaching of “come with me and I will show you what to do” originated in the Osteopathic approach. The teacher shows his student where to place the hands, how to touch diagnostically and then therapeutically, and how to communicate with the patient in such a way that allows them to cooperate with the physician and heal themselves.

AWARDS for Louisa Burns Osteopathic Research Group (LBORG) Student Poster Competition

Every year, FORCE funds the awards for the LBORG student poster competition in order to inspire scientific analysis and communication skills in Osteopathic medical students. Click here for more information about the award-winning posters