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Consequences of the presence and absence of empathy during consultations in primary care: A focus group study with patients.

Derksen, F., Olde Hartman, T.C., Dijk, A. van, Plouvier, A., Bensing, J., Lagro-Janssen, A. Consequences of the presence and absence of empathy during consultations in primary care: A focus group study with patients. Patient Education and Counseling: 2017, 100(5), 987-993
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There is general consensus that explicit expression of empathy in patient-GP communication is highly valued. Yet, little is known so far about patients’ personal experiences with and expectations of empathy. Insight into these experiences and expectations can help to achieve more person-centeredness in GP practice care.

Methods
Participants were recruited by a press report in local newspapers. Inclusion criteria: adults, a visit to the GP in the previous year. Exclusion criterion: a formal complaint procedure. Five focus groups were conducted. The discussions were analyzed using constant comparative analysis.

Results
In total 28 participants took part in the focus group interviews. Three themes were identified:
(1) Personalized care and enablement when empathy is present;
(2) Frustrations when empathy is absent;
(3) Potential pitfalls of empathy. Participants indicated that empathy helps build a more personal relationship and makes them feel welcome and at ease. Furthermore, empathy makes them feel supported and enabled. A lack of empathy can result in avoiding a visit to the GP.

Conclusion
Empathy is perceived as an important attribute of patient-GP communication. Its presence results in feelings of satisfaction, relief and trust. Furthermore, it supports patients, resulting in new coping strategies. A lack of empathy causes feelings of frustration and disappointment and can lead to patients avoiding visiting their GP.

Practice implications
More explicit attention should be given to empathy during medical education in general and during vocational GP-training.