The Effects of Physician Communication on Emotional Burden in Diabetic Patients

Doctor speaking with elderly patient and familyThe physical toll of diabetes can be challenging for patients at all stages of the disease. However, a sometimes underexplored area of concern is the emotional burden faced by people living with the condition. Psychological distress associated with diabetes has been linked to poor self-management of the disease and resulting health consequences.

A study explores the links between doctor-patient communication and patients’ emotional burden. The study, “Aspects of culturally competent care are associated with less emotional burden among patients with diabetes,” was published in the September 2012 issue of Medical Care.

The researchers focused on the importance of healthcare communication and physician-patient relationships given patients’ diverse cultural concerns. The study included 502 ethnically diverse patients with diabetes in 2 cities. The researchers relied on face-to-face interviews to measure patients’ perceptions of physician communication, as well as patients’ levels of emotional burden.

Emotional burden was measured using the Diabetes Distress Scale. Patients were said to have high emotional burden if they had a mean score of at least 3. Using the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems-Cultural Competence instrument, the researchers tested the effects of 3 factors: Doctor Communication-Positive Behaviors, Doctor Communication-Health Promotion, and Trust.

A little more than half of the patients interviewed reported high levels of emotional burden. The findings suggest that optimal levels of 2 out of 3 factors—Doctor Communication-Positive Behaviors (95% CI; 0.39-0.54) and Trust (95% CI; 0.54-0.78)—were associated with lower levels of emotional burden on the part of patients. No such effect was found for the third factor, Doctor Communication-Health Promotion Communication.

The findings demonstrate that better communication and greater patient trust have a negative association with emotional burden in diabetic patients. The researchers state that their findings shed light on the need for more research which examines the role that interventions aimed at improving patient-doctor communication can play in reducing emotional burden in diabetes patients.

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