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Bad back? You need a nice doctor, not just a competent one

IANS Apr 18, 2024

Empathetic doctors are better at relieving back pain than indifferent or aloof practitioners, according to research by US-based scientists.

A team from Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Texas found patients ended up with "significantly better and clinically relevant outcomes about pain, function, and health-related quality of life" after seeing "very empathic" physicians, compared to others who saw "slightly empathetic" doctors.

The study, which looked at almost 1,500 people being treated for chronic low back pain and was published by the American Medical Association, found doctor empathy to be "more strongly associated with favourable outcomes" than even "nonpharmacological treatments, opioid therapy, and lumbar spine surgery".

The researchers said they measured empathy "as perceived by patients rather than self-reported by physicians" - a metric they said was in contrast to most other research, which deployed "physician self-reported measures of empathy".

They hinted that the findings could have wider implications for treatments, describing "the patient-physician relationship" as "fundamental to the practice of medicine".

According to the Harvard Medical School, patients are more likely to stick with treatments and self-care plans if recommended to them by an empathetic medic.

In a paper published in January by the journal Annals of Internal Medicine and based on a review of randomised trials, UK-based doctors said they found "practitioners who deliver enhanced empathy" to typically "improve patient satisfaction with care".

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