Objective: To measure acupuncture patients' perceptions of practitioner empathy at the initial consultation and its relationship with patient enablement, and prospectively reported changes in symptoms.
Methods: Fifteen acupuncturists asked consecutive new patients to complete a questionnaire within 2 days of the first consultation. The questionnaire included the Consultation and Relational Empathy (CARE) measure (a consultation process measure), the Patient Enablement Instrument (PEI, a consultation outcome measure) and the Measure Yourself Medical Outcome Profile (MYMOP), a patient-centred symptom, well-being and activity outcome measure. A postal follow-up questionnaire was completed at 8 weeks, which repeated these measures.
Results: Fifty-two patients (58% of all new patients) completed the initial questionnaire. Of these, 41 (79%) completed the follow-up questionnaire. From a multiple regression analysis, which controlled for known confounders, empathy was found to be associated with enablement at the initial consultation (Beta coefficient=0.16, 95% CI: 0.02-0.31, p=0.03) and empathy-predicted changes in health outcome (MYMOP) at 8 weeks (Beta=0.07, 95% CI: 0.004-0.13, p=0.04).
Conclusion: Patients' perception of practitioner empathy was associated with patient enablement at initial consultation and predicted changes in health outcome at 8 weeks.
Practice implications: The empathy of practitioners, as perceived by patients, has a direct impact on patient enablement and health outcome.