Clinician-expressed empathy has been shown to improve patients’ recall of information in advanced cancer consultations, according to experimental studies. Yet, it continues to be unclear what are the underlying processes and if it is possible to extrapolate from these findings to clinical care. Researchers attempted to determine whether there is a correlation between clinician-expressed empathy and patients’ recall of information in the advanced breast cancer clinical consultation setting. They also investigated whether this is mediated by a reduction in patients’ anxiety.
In the research study, audio recordings of 41 consultations between oncologists and female patients who had been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer were used. An assessment of each patient’s post-consultation information recall and pre- and post-consultation anxiety was made. A self-created questionnaire was used to assess recall. Observers assessed clinician-expressed empathy on a scale of 0 to 100.
According to the analysis, patients recalled more than half (61%) of the material reviewed with their clinicians. Patients’ total information recalled was increased significantly (P = .041) and was correlated with clinician-expressed empathy and recall of treatment aims or positive effects (P = .028). Despite attempted analysis, it could not be established whether there was a mediating role of anxiety.
Empathy is a powerful tool that clinicians can utilize to improve seriously ill breast cancer patients’ recall of information. Despite there not being a clear underlying mechanism, these findings should further support clinicians’ expression of empathy, underscoring the need for practical education in pragmatic communication.
Westendorp J, Stouthard J, Meijers MC, et al. The power of clinician-expressed empathy to increase information recall in advanced breast cancer care: an observational study in clinical care, exploring the mediating role of anxiety. Patient Educ Couns. 2021;104:1109-1115.