Empathy-led healthcare is a crucial element for ensuring patient satisfaction, says study.

Dr Jeremy Howick

Patients treated with greater empathy by healthcare staff report increased levels of satisfaction with their care, an important measure linked to patient outcomes.

A study led by researchers from the University of Leicester’s Stoneygate Centre for Empathic Healthcare, reviewed 14 randomised trials with 1,986 patients. Researchers looked at the effect empathy had on patient satisfaction across North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Their findings, which have just been published in Annals of Internal Medicine show that greater empathy led to higher patient satisfaction.

Increased patient satisfaction is associated with improved survival following a heart attack; reduced hospital readmission; higher general quality of care; and better patient safety. It has also been reported to improve medication adherence. In addition, hospital reimbursement is also often linked to patient satisfaction scores. 

The study highlights how patient empathy commonly taken as showing and expressing understanding, followed by therapeutic action, is intrinsically linked to improved patient satisfaction. 

Dr Jeremy Howick, Director of the Stoneygate Centre for Empathic Healthcare and lead author of the study, explains: “Patient satisfaction is associated with positive patient outcomes ranging from better understanding because they have been able to communicate their concerns clearly, reduced pain to improved survival from heart attacks and improved healthcare safety.

“Increasing empathy is a simple intervention that can ultimately improve patient satisfaction and should be implemented.”

Researchers say empathy has important implications for clinical practice because patient satisfaction is often low. In the UK a 2022 survey found that only 36% of patients were satisfied with their NHS care across inpatient, outpatient, A&E, general practice and dentistry - the lowest since it was first measured in 1997. While in the US, a survey the same year found that fewer than half of Americans (22%) were satisfied with their healthcare.

Speaking about the study, Dr Howick added: “The ability to make conclusions is limited by concerns around the quality and applicability of evidence. More research is needed to understand the barriers to measuring and implementing empathy-led healthcare so that patient satisfaction – a vital measurement for measuring the quality of healthcare - can improve.”