Do empathic osteopaths achieve better clinical results? An observational feasibility study
Empathy plays a role in medical care. Studies have showed that higher empathy levels of physicians correlates with better patient outcomes. The role of empathy in osteopathic practice has been poorly investigated.
To explore the feasibility of analysing the link between the empathy of osteopaths and the improvement in persistent musculoskeletal pain patients.
13 trainees attending the 5th year in a reference osteopathic teaching institution and 39 patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain.
Trainees were tested for their empathy level by using the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy-Health Professional. Trainees with a score higher than the 80 th percentile and lower than the 20 th percentiles were identified as “highly” and “poorly” empathic therapists and were assigned respectively to the HET and LET group. Each trainee was assigned to patients. Pain intensity was monitored throughout the study by the validated Numerical Rating Scale (NRS).
Patients included into the HET and LET groups had comparable baseline characteristics. Both groups benefited from the treatment. The mean NRS improvement score in the HET group was 6.4 (95% CI 5.3 to 7.5; p < 0.0001). The LET mean NRS improvement score was 3.5 (95% CI 2.1 to 4.8; p < 0.0001). The intergroup difference indicated that the two patient groups differed in pain intensity starting from the third treatment (T3 p = 0.0032 and T4 p = 0.0021).
Research on the link between empathy of therapists and the outcome of Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment for chronic musculoskeletal pain appears feasible. The reported findings might help to design further confirmatory studies.