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Behavioral Competencies to Outcomes: Doctor Empathy Impacts Care

December 17, 2015


The evidence continues to mount: Behavioral competencies in healthcare are important not only for patient satisfaction scores and adapting to change, but they impact patient care and outcomes. We discussed this in a recent webinar (How Culture Drives - or Hinders - Performance & Outcomes) and a paper published in Becker’s Hospital Review.

New research shows a direct link between physician patientphysician empathy and success in managing diabetes. From a summary in the New York Times Health/Science Section:

Researchers studied 20,961 diabetes patients in Parma, Italy, and tested 242 of their primary care physicians for empathy with a well-validated questionnaire that measures the doctor’s understanding of the patient’s experiences, concerns and perspectives, as well as the ability to communicate this understanding to the patient.

. . . the rate of complications among the patients of the most empathetic doctors was about two-thirds that of patients whose doctors scored lower on the questionnaire.
Daniel Z. Louis, an author of the study and a research associate professor of family and community medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, said compassion was a significant factor in good health care. “Physician empathy should be considered an important component of clinical competency,” he said.

Every hospital-wide competency modeling project we’ve done has identified empathy as an important trait, but this is always based on interviews and surveys. Historically it’s always been assumed that empathy was a positive in patient care, but this study shows a direct correlation with patient outcomes.

So – what are you doing in your selection process to evaluate empathy of providers? Does anything in your process evaluate empathy in physicians, nurses or other providers? Your interview? A validated assessment? I just left the ASHHRA annual conference, and an informal survey of attendees (to be summarized here in a few weeks) revealed that less than 50% of hospitals are confident that their interview helps in this regard and even fewer are using predictive assessments.

As healthcare continues to borrow processes, technology and solutions from other industries, it’s time to look to the selection strategies that have been successful for years in manufacturing, retail, customer service, sales and executive placement: assessing and hiring for those behaviors that we know predict success and, in this case, patient outcomes.


Bryan Warren Bryan Warren is the President of J3 Personica, a consulting, assessment, training, and coaching firm, and a guest blogger for PSI. Bryan is an expert in progressive talent strategies, with a particular focus on leader and physician selection and development.