The effect of surgeon empathy and emotional intelligence on patient satisfaction

Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2011 Dec;16(5):591-600. doi: 10.1007/s10459-011-9278-3. Epub 2011 Feb 2.


We investigated the associations of surgeons' emotional intelligence and surgeons' empathy with patient-surgeon relationships, patient perceptions of their health, and patient satisfaction before and after surgical procedures. We used multi-source approaches to survey 50 surgeons and their 549 outpatients during initial and follow-up visits. Surgeons' emotional intelligence had a positive effect (r = .45; p < .001) on patient-rated patient-surgeon relationships. Patient-surgeon relationships had a positive impact on patient satisfaction before surgery (r = .95; p < .001). Surgeon empathy did not have an effect on patient-surgeon relationships or patient satisfaction prior to surgery. But after surgery, surgeon empathy appeared to have a significantly positive and indirect effect on patient satisfaction through the mediating effect of patients' self-reported health status (r = .21; p < .001). Our study showed that long-term patient satisfaction with their surgeons is affected less by emotional intelligence than by empathy. Furthermore, empathy indirectly affects patient satisfaction through its positive effect on health outcomes, which have a direct effect on patients' satisfaction with their surgeons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Emotional Intelligence*
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • General Surgery
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult