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PLoS One. 2015 Dec 14;10(12):e0144492. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0144492. eCollection 2015.

The Association of Types of Training and Practice Settings with Doctors' Empathy and Patient Enablement among Patients with Chronic Illness in Hong Kong.

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Department of Family Medicine, New Territories East Cluster, Hospital Authority, Hong Kong SAR, The People's Republic of China.
School of Public Health and Primary Care, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, The People's Republic of China.
Department of Family Medicine and Primary Care, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, The People's Republic of China.
Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom.



The increase in non-communicable disease (NCD) is becoming a global health problem and there is an increasing need for primary care doctors to look after these patients although whether family doctors are adequately trained and prepared is unknown.


This study aimed to determine if doctors with family medicine (FM) training are associated with enhanced empathy in consultation and enablement for patients with chronic illness as compared to doctors with internal medicine training or without any postgraduate training in different clinic settings.


This was a cross-sectional questionnaire survey using the validated Chinese version of the Consultation and Relational Empathy (CARE) Measure as well as Patient Enablement Instrument (PEI) for evaluation of quality and outcome of care. 14 doctors from hospital specialist clinics (7 with family medicine training, and 7 with internal medicine training) and 13 doctors from primary care clinics (7 with family medicine training, and 6 without specialist training) were recruited. In total, they consulted 823 patients with chronic illness. The CARE Measure and PEI scores were compared amongst doctors in these clinics with different training background: family medicine training, internal medicine training and those without specialist training. Generalized estimation equation (GEE) was used to account for cluster effects of patients nested with doctors.


Within similar clinic settings, FM trained doctors had higher CARE score than doctors with no FM training. In hospital clinics, the difference of the mean CARE score for doctors who had family medicine training (39.2, SD = 7.04) and internal medicine training (35.5, SD = 8.92) was statistically significant after adjusting for consultation time and gender of the patient. In the community care clinics, the mean CARE score for doctors with family medicine training and those without specialist training were 32.1 (SD = 7.95) and 29.2 (SD = 7.43) respectively, but the difference was not found to be significant. For PEI, patients receiving care from doctors in the hospital clinics scored significantly higher than those in the community clinics, but there was no significant difference in PEI between patients receiving care from doctors with different training backgrounds within similar clinic setting.


Family medicine training was associated with higher patient perceived empathy for chronic illness patients in the hospital clinics. Patient enablement appeared to be associated with clinic settings but not doctors' training background. Training in family medicine and a clinic environment that enables more patient doctor time might help in enhancing doctors' empathy and enablement for chronic illness patients.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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