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Synergistic effects of emergency physician empathy and burnout on patient satisfaction: a prospective observational study


Background Physician empathy and burnout have been shown to be independently associated with patient satisfaction. However, their correlations were uncertain in previous studies. We aimed to determine correlations among empathy, burnout, and patient satisfaction, and further analyse interactions among these factors.

Method A single centre prospective observational study was conducted from December 2018 to August 2019 at JPS Health Network, USA. Emergency physician (EP) self-assessed empathy and burnout were measured by the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE) and the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory (CBI) separately. We assessed patient perception of physician empathy and patient satisfaction with their treating physician by the Jefferson Scale of Patient Perception of Physician Empathy and a patient assessed satisfaction survey. Spearman’s correlation was used to determine associations among JSE, patient assessed physician empathy, CBI and patient satisfaction. Additionally, JSE, patient assessed physician empathy and CBI predictive of patient satisfaction were measured by multivariate logistic regression analysis.

Results A total of 28 EPs and 423 patients were enrolled. Patient satisfaction had a weak correlation with JSE (ρ=0.11) but showed a strong correlation with patient assessed physician empathy (ρ=0.60). CBI showed no correlation with patient satisfaction (ρ<0.1). However, when JSE, patient assessed physician empathy and CBI were analysed together in relation to patient satisfaction, adjusted odds ratios (AOR) was 3.85 (95% CI 1.36 to 10.88) with high patient assessed physician empathy alone; AOR was 7.17 (2.62–19.67) when high patient assessed physician empathy was combined with low CBI; and AOR was 8.37 (3.07–22.83) when high patient assessed physician empathy, low CBI and high JSE were combined.

Conclusion Patient assessed physician empathy had a strong positive correlation with patient satisfaction. Moreover, higher patient satisfaction was achieved from EPs of high patient assessed physician empathy, low CBI and high JSE, indicating a positive synergistic effect. These findings suggest different interventions might be applied to EPs of different wellness features to maximise patient satisfaction.

  • emergency department

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