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J Clin Oncol. 1999 Jan;17(1):371-9.

Can 40 seconds of compassion reduce patient anxiety?

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Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.



To use a standardized videotape stimulus to assess the effect of physician compassion on viewers' anxiety, information recall, treatment decisions, and assessment of physician characteristics.


One hundred twenty-three healthy female breast cancer survivors and 87 women without cancer were recruited for this study. A randomized pretest/posttest control group design with a standardized videotape intervention was used. Participants completed the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), an information recall test, a compassion rating, and physician attribute rating scales.


Women who saw an "enhanced compassion" videotape rated the physician as warmer and more caring, sensitive, and compassionate than did women who watched the "standard" videotape. Women who saw the enhanced compassion videotape were significantly less anxious after watching it than the women in the other group. Nevertheless, information recall was relatively low for both groups, and enhanced compassion did not influence patient decisions. Those who saw the enhanced compassion videotape rated the doctor significantly higher on other positive attributes, such as wanting what was best for the patient and encouraging the patient's questions and involvement in decisions.


The enhanced compassion segment was short, simple, and effective in decreasing viewers' anxiety. Further research is needed to translate these findings to the clinical setting, where reducing patient anxiety is a therapeutic goal.

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