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

patients in a variety of doctors waiting rooms. About 96 percent of the all patients approached agreed to take the survey, yielding 4,746 completed questionnaires.

The actors portrayed two roles. They all claimed to be new patients, 48 years old, with chest pain. Some described their pain as characteristic of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), while others presented more ambiguous chest pain, poorly characterized. They all took part in standard, 15-to-20-minute acute visits.

Researchers trained the actors to deliver prompts that might elicit empathy, such as Do you think this could be something serious? Or to say something like, You hear a lot about cancer and heart disease, and I was worried about that.

They used the patient surveys from the waiting rooms and transcripts of the audio-recorded exams to evaluate the doctors responses. Researchers characterized the responses by type, frequency, pattern, and communication style, and correlated them with patient satisfaction ratings. They also looked for signs that doctors doled out empty reassurances, were dismissive, or made statements that served as conversation-stoppers.

The most common physician response was a simple acknowledgement of the symptoms, followed by biomedical questions or medical explanations. Later, some physicians reassured the patients and suggested diagnostic tests, medications, or other treatments. Surprisingly, reassurance from the doctor sometimes increased patient anxiety, the study said.

Patients reported the most satisfaction when doctors empathized with them in challenging situations, such as when the medical answer was not clear-cut, the study said.

Few studies have noted that empathy makes a difference in health care, Epstein said. The research also spotlighted nuances about communication and behavior, such as whether the timing of empathetic statements is important, and how long it takes to voice empathy in the context of a typi
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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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