Studies indicate that physicians do not respond adequately to patients’ emotional issues. Physician sensitivity to patient affect has not been much explored.
To describe specialist physicians’ sensitivity to patient affect and satisfaction.
Cross-sectional study of physicians’ and patients’ postvisit questionnaire statements about patient affective states and satisfaction.
A representative sample of 71 physicians covering nonpsychiatric clinical specialties in a general teaching hospital were observed during 497 encounters with patients (outpatient, inpatient on rounds, emergency room, maximum 8 encounters per physician).
Standardized correlations between physician and patient statements.
Physician statements about patient negative affect were moderately correlated with patient self-report of negative affect [r=0.379 (0.301; 0.452)]. Physician statements about patient positive affect and patient satisfaction were weakly correlated with patient self-report of positive affect [r=0.238 (0.153; 0.319)] and satisfaction [r=0.219 (0.134; 0.301)]. Internists [r=0.300 (0.161; 0.428)] were significantly less sensitive to negative affect than surgeons [r=0.500 (0.360; 0.618), P=0.038] and neurologists [r=0.621 (0.432; 0.758), P=0.007]. Physicians previously known by the patient were significantly more sensitive to negative affect than those who were not known [r=0.509 (0.391; 0.611) vs. 0.293 (0.189; 0.390), P=0.006]. We could not find differences in affective sensitivity between male and female physicians.
Specialist physicians have moderate ability to identify patient negative affect and poor ability to identify patient positive affect and patient satisfaction.