Brief training can boost physician empathy, study says

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted June 4, 2012

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Doctors who participated in a three-hour program designed to increase empathy as part of their graduate medical education showed positive results in later patient reviews, says a study published online May 2 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine (link).

“The most exciting message from this study is that empathy can be taught,” said lead study author Helen Riess, MD, a psychiatrist and associate clinical professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Researchers randomly picked 99 residents and fellows from six specialties at Massachusetts General Hospital. Fifty-four physicians participated in three 60-minute empathy training modules, while 45 physicians did not. Training participants learned about the neurobiology of emotion and how to detect emotional signals.

The physicians were assessed in patient reviews a month before the training and within one to two months after the training. Those in the experimental group had significantly improved patient ratings of their empathic behavior, while the control group ratings declined during the same period, the study said.

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