Characterization of doctor-patient communication using heartbeat nonlinear dynamics: A preliminary study using Lagged Poincaré Plots

Annu Int Conf IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2017 Jul:2017:3473-3476. doi: 10.1109/EMBC.2017.8037604.


Emphatic doctor-patient communication has been associated with an improved psycho-physiological well-being involving cardiovascular and neuroendocrine responses. Nevertheless, a comprehensive assessment of heartbeat linear and nonlinear/complex dynamics throughout the communication of a life-threatening disease has not been performed yet. To this extent, we here study heart rate variability (HRV) series gathered from 17 subjects while watching a video where an oncologist discloses the diagnosis of a cancer metastasis to a patient. Further 17 subjects watched the same video including additional affective emphatic contents. For the assessment of the two groups, linear heartbeat dynamics was quantified through measures defined in the time and frequency domains, whereas nonlinear/complex dynamics referred to measures of entropy, and combined Lagged Poincare Plots (LPP) and symbolic analyses. Considering differences between the beginning and the end of the video, results from non-parametric statistical tests demonstrated that the group watching emphatic contents showed HRV changes in the LF/HF ratio exclusively. Conversely, the group watching the purely informative video showed changes in vagal activity (i.e., HF power), LF/HF ratio, as well as LPP measures. Additionally, a Support Vector Machine algorithm including HRV nonlinear/complex information was able to automatically discern between groups with an accuracy of 76.47%. We therefore propose the use of heartbeat nonlinear/complex dynamics to objectively assess the empathy level of healthy women.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Communication
  • Electrocardiography
  • Entropy
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Nonlinear Dynamics*