Female healthcare practitioners (HCPs) express greater empathy than male practitioners, particularly if consultations last longer than 10 minutes, according to findings from a systematic review and meta-analysis published in BMC Medical Education.1
Researchers sought to measure several variables associated with patients’ subjective perceptions of empathy expressed by their HCPs, analyzing data from previous research using the Consultation and Relational Empathy (CARE) measure.
Higher empathy ratings were observed in studies that had more female than male practitioners, with a 7.92-point difference (16%), which was considered statistically significant (P =.004). Australian patients reported the highest empathy scores, followed by patients from the United States and the United Kingdom.
In addition, allied health professionals had the highest empathy scores (45.29; 95% CI, 41.38-49.20) compared with physicians, who scored the lowest (39.68; 95% CI, 38.29-41.08).
Finally, HCPs who consulted with their patients ≥10 minutes had higher empathy scores (42.60, 95% CI; 40.69-44.52) compared with practitioners spending <10 min (34.93, 95% CI; 32.66-37.21) — a 7.67-point difference (15%), which was considered highly significant(P <.001).
The investigators note that they were unsure whether the additional time female practitioners spent with their patients caused them to be more empathetic, or the “female practitioners’ higher empathy caused them to spend more time with patients.”
Another study limitation was response bias, with patients providing inflated responses to please their practitioners.
According to the investigators, empathy can be “defined as a practitioner’s ability to understand a patient’s point of view, express this understanding, and make a recommendation that reflects the shared understanding.”
Further study of these variables, including associative effects of gender, consultation duration, and experience level, may help determine how they could be applied in clinical practice to improve patient care.
Howick J, Steinkopf L, Ulyte A, Roberts N, Meissner K, et al. How empathic is your healthcare practitioner? A systematic review and meta-analysis of patient surveys. BMC Med Educ. 2017;17(1):136.