Dr. Diane S. Morse of the University of Rochester Medical Center and colleagues conducted an analysis of 20 recorded and transcribed consultations between lung cancer patients -- average age 65, all male -- and nine physicians. Each visit contained an average of 326 statements and physicians responded with empathy in 10 percent of the 384 opportunities to provide empathy.
"Otherwise, physicians provided little emotional support, often shifting to biomedical questions and statements," the study authors said in a statement. "With a mean of less than two empathic physician responses per encounter, empathy was an infrequent occurrence. Half of the empathic responses that physicians offered occurred in the last one-third of the encounter, although patients' concerns were raised throughout the visit."
Some doctors may believe there is no time for empathic responses, they may be too busy with other tasks to recognize opportunities for empathy, or they may consciously avoid responding empathetically, the study authors said.
The findings are published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.