Physician empathy associated with decreased patient anxiety

When hospitalists responded to patients with empathy, those patients experienced decreases in anxiety and rated their experiences with the hospitalist more positively, according to findings presented at the Society of Hospital Medicine Annual Meeting.


Rachel Weiss, MD, UCSF Medical Center, San Francisco, and colleagues also found that empathic responses were not associated with length of the patient encounter.

“Experts identify empathic responses to patient expressions of negative emotion — such as anxiety, sadness, and anger — as a key component of patient-centered communication, yet evidence on the impact of empathy on patient-reported outcomes in the hospital is limited,” Weiss and colleagues reported in their abstract.

The researchers recorded the audio of 76 patient encounters with 27 physicians at two academic hospitals and surveyed patients about the encounters both before and after. They categorized hospitalist responses as empathic, neutral or nonempathic and evaluated patient anxiety before and after the encounter using the 60-point State Anxiety Scale. They also measured encounter length and patient ratings of the hospitalist and the encounter.


Weiss R, et al. Hospitalist Empathy Is Associated with Decreased Patient Anxiety and Higher Ratings of Communication in Admission Encounters. Presented at: Society for Hospital Medicine Annual Meeting; March 6-9, 2016; San Diego.