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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Patient enablement requires physician empathy: a cross-sectional study of general practice consultations in areas of high and low socioeconomic deprivation in Scotland

Stewart W Mercer1*, Bhautesh D Jani1, Margaret Maxwell2, Samuel YS Wong3 and Graham CM Watt1

Author Affiliations

1 General Practice and Primary Care, Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow, 1 Horselethill Road, Glasgow, UK

2 School of Nursing, Midwifery & Health, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK

3 School of Public Health and Primary Care, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

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BMC Family Practice 2012, 13:6  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-13-6

Published: 8 February 2012

Abstract

Background

Patient 'enablement' is a term closely aligned with 'empowerment' and its measurement in a general practice consultation has been operationalised in the widely used patient enablement instrument (PEI), a patient-rated measure of consultation outcome. However, there is limited knowledge regarding the factors that influence enablement, particularly the effect of socio-economic deprivation. The aim of the study is to assess the factors influencing patient enablement in GP consultations in areas of high and low deprivation.

Methods

A questionnaire study was carried out on 3,044 patients attending 26 GPs (16 in areas of high socio-economic deprivation and 10 in low deprivation areas, in the west of Scotland). Patient expectation (confidence that the doctor would be able to help) was recorded prior to the consultation. PEI, GP empathy (measured by the CARE Measure), and a range of other measures and variables were recorded after the consultation. Data analysis employed multi-level modelling and multivariate analyses with the PEI as the dependant variable.

Results

Although numerous variables showed a univariate association with patient enablement, only four factors were independently predictive after multilevel multivariate analysis; patients with multimorbidity of 3 or more long-term conditions (reflecting poor chronic general health), and those consulting about a long-standing problem had reduced enablement scores in both affluent and deprived areas. In deprived areas, emotional distress (GHQ-caseness) had an additional negative effect on enablement. Perceived GP empathy had a positive effect on enablement in both affluent and deprived areas. Maximal patient enablement was never found with low empathy.

Conclusions

Although other factors influence patient enablement, the patients' perceptions of the doctors' empathy is of key importance in patient enablement in general practice consultations in both high and low deprivation settings.

Keywords:
Patient Enablement; Empathy; General Practice Consultation; Socio-economic Deprivation