Empathetic doctors make healthier patients

  • 04/05/2016
Empathetic doctors make healthier patients

Your doctor's bedside manner is more than just pleasantries -- it could lead to better health, an expert believes.

One of the speakers at this year's Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists meeting in Auckland this week, Robin Youngson, says doctors who treat patients in a friendly way can have a positive influence on medical outcomes.

Having looked at multiple studies, including a Harvard review of 13 trials about people at risk of heart attacks, a study of palliative care for lung cancer and research into 21,000 diabetic patients, Dr Youngson concluded patients who are treated well trust their doctors more and are more likely to follow advice -- leading to better results.

"As doctors, we have to relate to patients as human beings," he said.

"We need to understand their feelings, we need to engage with them and validate them, and we need to use our power of positive suggestion to talk to them in a more positive way about how they can contribute to their own recovery and cope with pain."

Dr Youngson said belief among many doctors was still that being nice to patients would lead to burn-out.

"The research doesn't support that. The more empathetic doctors were, the less likely they were to burn out," he said.

Medical training needed to change in order to teach students the skills they needed to be more empathic, he said.

The benefits had been well known since an experiment in the `60s found patients after surgery needed half the pain killers and were discharged sooner if their anaesthetist was supportive, rather than cold, Dr Youngson said.

"If a new, cheap and safe drug could halve opiate requirements after major surgery and substantially reduce patients' length of stay without any adverse side effects, wouldn't we rapidly adopt it?"

He will present his findings to the conference today.