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Neurologists Need to Empathize with MS Patients

August 9, 2016

Anxiety and depression are common symptoms in people with multiple sclerosis, and sometimes neurologists may be less concerned with the emotional state their patients are in. 

In Italy a group of researchers conducted a study that measured patient expressions of emotion during outpatient consultations and the responses from neurologists to the expressions. In 88 patients with MS levels of anxiety and depression were measured before an initial consultation with a neurologist. After consultations with 10 neurologists were recorded they were analyzed for patient expressions of emotional cues or overtly expressed concerns and the doctor’s response.

While concerns that come from patients are clear, ‘cues’ are more like hints (verbal or nonverbal) that suggest an underlying unpleasant emotion. When concerns or cues are expressed spontaneously by a patient, it is so topics that have previously been neglected can be brought up. During the 88 consultants, 492 cues and 45 cues were expressed by patients. The cues that had been most common were verbal hints to hidden concerns followed by neutral expressions that referred to stressful life events and/or situations.

Patient anxiety was observed to be directly associated with emotional expressions. When the neurologists reacted to these emotions expressed, 75% the doctor would change the subject, ignore the cue’s content or give generic reassurance.

Communication between the patient and physician has been seen to improve when the physician responds empathetically to patient concerns. Helping patients verbalize their feelings can facilitate emotional regulation as well as work as a coping mechanism. Communication between the two also generates greater patient satisfaction with interpersonal care and can increase collaboration. “MS neurologists need to be empowered with better communication and shared decision-making skills. An integrated approach that combines evidence-based medicine with shared decision-making, arising from empathic listening, is essential for quality health care and should be taught at all levels of medical training.”

Source: multiplesclerosis.net