We Care

The Evidence for Caring in Healthcare

Is your doctor spending more time with your electronic medical record than he’s spending with you? If so, you’re not alone. But you’re also probably not receiving the most effective care possible. A growing body of evidence suggests that genuine empathetic caring may be essential for good health outcomes.

Empathetic caring is especially scarce for people with obesity. Many clinicians harbor both explicit and implicit bias against patients with obesity. They build less rapport and provide inferior care as a result. Stress and internalized stigma then add to the harm.

Most often, protocols, drugs, and procedures define the standards for evidence-based care. These are valuable, objective tools for quality care. But it turns out that empathetic caring is also an observable marker for quality care. Writing in the New York Times, physician Danielle Ofri says:

What’s often overlooked is that the simple conversation between doctor and patient can be as potent an analgesic as many treatments we prescribe.

In a randomized, controlled study of treating chronic back pain, empathetic dialog was more effective than a standard treatment without dialog. The combination of both was most effective. Likewise, if clinicians have higher empathy scores, their patients with diabetes have better clinical outcomes.

Protocols, drugs, and procedures can do a lot for our health. But actual caring is indispensable for good healthcare.

Click here for more from the New York Times, here for more on the impact of empathy in clinical care, and here for more on the impact of bias and stigma on outcomes for patients with obesity.

We Care, photograph © Thomas Hawk / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


January 20, 2017