Research led by Jefferson Medical College shows very clearly that diabetics with more empathetic primary care physicians have superior outcomes.  The researchers sought a tangible clinical outcome. The presence of acute metabolic complications among diabetic patients, including hyperosmolar state, diabetic ketoacides, and coma, for patients who were hospitalized in 2009 was used as the outcome measure. Acute metabolic complications were used because they require hospitalization, can develop rather quickly, and their prevention is more likely to be influenced by the primary care physicians.

A total of 123 patients were hospitalized because of acute metabolic complications in 2009. Results showed that physicians in the higher empathy score group had a lower rate of patients with acute metabolic complications. For example, physicians with higher empathy levels had 29 (out of 7,224) patients admitted to the hospital, whereas physicians with lower levels had 42 (out of 6,434) patients.

There are many factors that add to the strength of the study. Firstly, because of universal health care coverage in Italy, there is no confounding effect of difference in insurance, lack of insurance or financial barriers to access care.

Stefano Del Canale, Daniel Z. Louis, Vittorio Maio, Xiaohong Wang, Giuseppina Rossi, Mohammadreza Hojat, Joseph S. Gonnella. The Relationship Between Physician Empathy and Disease Complications. Academic Medicine, 2012; 87 (9)

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