Impact of Empathy in the Patient-Doctor Relationship on Chronic Pain Relief and Quality of Life: A Prospective Study in Spanish Pain Clinics.

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Abstract

Objective

To assess the impact of the empathy of physicians, perceived by patients with chronic pain, regarding pain relief and health-related quality of life (HR-QoL).

Methods

A prospective noninterventional study was conducted in 2,898 patients with moderate to severe chronic pain who were referred to pain clinics. The same physician visited each patient at baseline and after one and three months. Study questionnaires included the Jefferson Scale of Patient Perceptions of Physician Empathy (JSPPPE), the Life Orientation Test-Revised (LOT-R), the Pain Coping Questionnaire (CAD-R), the Brief Pain Inventory Short Form (BPI-SF), and the EuroQol-5D (EQ-5D). Regression analyses were used to evaluate the independent contribution of the changes in perceived empathy over pain intensity and improvement of HR-QoL.

Results

BPI-SF scores for pain intensity, rated as worst, least, average, and current pain, decreased significantly ( P  < 0.001) from baseline to month 3, with reductions of 33.7%, 42.5%, 40.0%, and 46.9%, respectively. Pain intensity decreased from 6.3 ± 1.5 at baseline to 4.7 ± 1.8 at one month and 3.8 ± 1.9 at three months ( P  < 0.050). Significant ( P  < 0.001) improvements in the EQ-5D tariff (+37.1%) and EQ-5D VAS (+26.7%) were also recorded. In the linear regression analysis, JSPPPE and LOT-R, but not CAD-R, were significantly associated with pain relief and HR-QoL.

Conclusions

Physicians' empathy and patients' dispositional optimism have a role in determining positive outcomes in patients with chronic pain. Physicians' empathy may therefore be a suitable, yet relatively unexplored, target for intervention.

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