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Patients wonder, 'Could this be something serious?'
Date:12/4/2007

Nearly 4,800 patient surveys and 100 covertly recorded visits by actors posing as patients revealed that empathy is lacking in many exam rooms around the Rochester, N.Y., area however, doctors who do convey empathy are viewed as more trustworthy.

The study, led by Ronald Epstein, M.D., professor of Family Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, is published in the December Journal of General Internal Medicine. http://www.springerlink.com/content/fw64033k08136500/?p=dd9c18c8853a44da84328bfeaaf3e5b7&pi=14

Epstein and colleagues observed how doctors responded when patients asked loaded questions indicating worry about symptoms involving chest pain. The study builds on previous work by Epsteins group, in which they have described how good communication between doctors and patients, and a willingness to explore concerns, results in improved health care and lower costs.

An analysis of the doctor-patient interactions showed that doctors voiced empathy in only 15 percent of the office visits, even after repeated prompting by the patients.

I think this study supports the notion that mindfulness is an essential clinical skill, said Epstein, who also directs Rochesters Center to Improve Communications in Health Care. Mindfulness helps the doctor understand the patients world to a sufficient degree, so that no matter what the doctors personal style is, he or she can express empathy.

The research began with 100 consenting doctors (47 family physicians and 53 general internists) in the greater Rochester area in 2001-2002. The doctors agreed to receive two unannounced visits over a one-year period by actors trained to portray patients in a realistic and uniform way. The actors would record the visits without the doctors knowledge. Meanwhile, the research team also collected 10-minute surveys from real adult
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Contact: Leslie Orr
Leslie_Orr@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-5774
University of Rochester Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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