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How a patient perceives his or her doctor is a very important part of the doctor-patient relationship. It can make a major difference in terms of trust and treatment. One of the main things that can influence a patient’s opinion about his or her physician is the doctor’s compassion, or optimism, when providing the patient with information and treatment options.

According to a recent study done by researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Center in Houston, patients generally link the compassion of a doctor with the degree of optimism conveyed by the doctor when delivering news or giving information. This is especially true in cases where the patient has an advanced disease (e.g. cancer).

In the study, researchers had 100 patients with advanced cancer watch two videos. One video was of a doctor delivering a more optimistic message to the patient, whereas the second video showed a doctor giving a less optimistic message to the patient. The researchers found that 57% of the patients preferred the more optimistic doctor, 22% preferred the less optimistic doctor, and 21% had no preference. The research team was able to conclude that, “Patients perceived a higher level of compassion and preferred physicians who provided a more optimistic message.”

This is not a major surprise because it is known that most people like to hear the “good news” rather than the “bad news”. It is also important to remember that it is very difficult and stressful to deliver bad news to a patient. Some doctors even fear that they may later be blamed for coming to a negative conclusion and/or decreasing the patient’s hope.

However, the findings of this research do also have a positive outcome. It allows for further research related to this topic to be conducted, this time counting in other factors and possibly providing more evidence to support the findings of the initial study. This also shows that, in the health field, there is room for improvement in communication skills for health professionals. The researchers stated that, “Further research and educational techniques in structuring less optimistic message content would help support professionals in delivering bad news.”

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