Objective: The aim of this pilot prospective study was to investigate the relationships between general practitioners (GPs) empathy, patient enablement, and patient-assessed outcomes in primary care consultations in an area of high socio-economic deprivation in Scotland.
Methods: This prospective study was carried out in a five-doctor practice in an area of high socioeconomic deprivation in Scotland. Patients' views on the consultation were gathered using the Consultation and Relational Empathy (CARE) Measure and the Patient Enablement Instrument (PEI). Changes in main complaint and well-being 1 month after the contact consultation were gathered from patients by postal questionnaire. The effect of GP empathy on patient enablement and prospective change in outcome was investigated using structural equation modelling.
Results: 323 patients completed the initial questionnaire at the contact consultation and of these 136 (42%) completed and returned the follow-up questionnaire at 1 month. Confirmatory factor analysis confirmed the construct validity ofthe CARE Measure, though omission of two ofthe six PEI items was required in order to reach an acceptable global data fit. The structural equation model revealed a direct positive relationship between GP empathy and patient enablement at contact consultation and a prospective relationship between patient enablement and changes in main complaint and well-being at 1 month.
Conclusion: In a high deprivation setting, GP empathy is associated with patient enablement at consultation, and enablement predicts patient-rated changes 1 month later. Further larger studies are desirable to confirm or refute these findings.
Practice implications: Ways of increasing GP empathy and patient enablement need to be established in order to maximise patient outcomes. Consultation length and relational continuity of care are known factors: the benefit of training and support for GPs needs to be further investigated.