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Research Measures Perceptions of Physician Compassion

Patients perceive higher level of compassion among physicians who provide a more optimistic message

TUESDAY, March 3, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Patients prefer physicians who convey a more optimistic message, and perceive in them a higher level of compassion, according to a study published online Feb. 26 in JAMA Oncology.

Kimberson Tanco, M.D., from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and colleagues compared patients’ perceptions of physician compassion after watching video vignettes of two physicians conveying a more optimistic and less optimistic message. One hundred patients with advanced cancer were randomly allocated to observe two standardized videos depicting a physician discussing treatment information with a patient with advanced cancer. Both physicians made five empathetic statements and displayed identical posture.

The researchers found that patients reported significantly better physician compassion scores after watching the more optimistic video versus the less optimistic video (P < 0.001). There was a sequence effect, with the second video favored in both compassion scores and physician preference (both P < 0.001). Higher perception of compassion correlated with greater trust in the medical profession; the physician was ranked as trustworthy by 63 patients observing the more optimistic message versus 39 observing the less optimistic message (P = 0.03).

“More research is needed in structuring less optimistic message content to support health care professionals in delivering less optimistic news,” the authors write.

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