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Stanford University School of Medicine

Patients who have a good emotional fit with their doctors are more likely to follow their advice

Getting patients to trust - and take - their doctor's advice isn't always easy. In the United States alone, an estimated 40 percent of patients in certain disease groups struggle to follow their doctor’s recommendations.

A recent Stanford News story highlighted the importance of feeling emotionally aligned with your doctor. Patients are more likely to listen to, and approve of, doctors that convey the emotions and states they'd like to have.

In the study (subscription required, pdf here), psychologist Jeanne Tsai, PhD, and postdoctoral fellow Tamara Sims, PhD, recruited 101 adults from the San Francisco Bay Area to answer a series of questions about their health and emotional state.

Each participant received recommendations, such as "do muscle strengthening" or "rest," from a virtual physician that focused on either "high arousal" or "low arousal positive states." Participants that received advice from the "high arousal" virtual doctor were told to do activities that would increase their energy levels, while participants that got advice from the "low arousal" doctor were advised to take steps to help them relax.

For the next five days, participants reported how well they adhered to their virtual doctor's advice, how calm or energized they felt, and how relaxed or energetic they wanted to feel. At the end of the five-day period, each participant ranked their virtual doctor's competence, knowledge, and trustworthiness.

The researchers found that participants who wanted to feel more energized were more likely to prefer and listen to the advice of the high-energy doctor. Participants who wanted to feel more relaxed were more likely to favor and adhere to advice from the low-energy doctor.

As Tsai explains in the story, the importance of this study is that doctors may be able to encourage their patients to trust and take their advice more often if they make it a priority to identify their patient's health goals first and then tailor their treatments accordingly.

Previously: Study explores how cultural differences can shape the way we respond to sufferingA call for extended bedside-manner trainingAbraham Verghese discusses reconnecting to the patient at the bedside and Hands on: Abraham Verghese teaches bedside skills

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