Laurie's Blogs.


May 2021

How is your Empathy EQ?

I read an interesting blog that took me down this rabbit hole, How Empathy Can Improve Clinical Outcomes.  I’ve seen this topic before in other blog posts and human healthcare articles.  So, I thought I’d share the knowledge and then go down the path of what is in the literature in regards to Veterinary Medicine that we can all benefit from?


So, here goes.


What the research tells us: “Patient satisfaction is an important patient-centered health outcome.”  Hush MM et al (2011) conducted a systematic review and weeded through 3790 research articles, of which, 15 met inclusion criteria.  Here’s the conclusion:
 “Patients are highly satisfied with musculoskeletal physical therapy care delivered across outpatient settings in northern Europe, North America, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. The interpersonal attributes of the therapist and the process of care are key determinants of patient satisfaction. An unexpected finding was that treatment outcome was infrequently and inconsistently associated with patient satisfaction.”


Read that last line again!  Outcome didn’t matter… The conclusion went on furthermore to say that, “Physical therapists can enhance the quality of patient-centered car by understanding and optimizing these determinants of patient satisfaction.”


What were the things that ranked high on patient satisfaction?

  • Friendliness / personality / caring of therapist
  • Professionalism of therapist / competence
  • Communication / explaining / teaching
  • Individualized care / patient involvement in decision-making process
  • Staff were personal and approachable
  • Access to services, convenient hours, good parking, cleanliness of clinic


The discussion revealed that the NUMBER 1 determinant of patient satisfaction across all studies was that therapist’s attributes.  Number 2 was process of care: adequate duration of appointment, frequency of care, appropriate follow-up, continuity of care, and patient involvement in decision making.


Where does this leave us in the Canine Rehab field?  

Well, that hasn’t been studied!  However, if it was, it would be the OWNER filling out the survey, so ultimately, it’s the owner that needs to be satisfied with the services we provide.  Bottom line, it is the owner that brings the dog, pays the bills, and/or decides to change clinics or stop treatment. So, the owner needs to be satisfied with the services you provide.  To be satisfied, you need to establish a relationship with that owner.  You need to demonstrate your caring, spend time explaining and teaching, develop rapport, involve them in decision making… basically the bullet list above.


Do you need to up level your Empathy?

Chances are you might!  It could depend on your formal training in empathy, what you witnessed or experienced growing up, your background, or your basic personality.  However, I found a few online sources to guide folks in developing empathy.


1. Hall et al 2020, produced a nice paper that provides examples and dialogue of what patients (humans going to physiotherapy) appreciate.  Click on the link in the reference section to learn more.


2. A blog, Five Everyday Exercises for Building Empathy, suggested the following:  

  • Listen actively. Practice active listening by reformulating the message to the person who just said it. ...
  • Explore differences. ...
  • Read fiction. ...
  • Practice mindfulness. ...
  • Remember why.


3. An article, Being Empathetic is Important.  Can You Learn Empathy? suggests the following:

  • Seek out new perspectives and experiences. ...
  • Take the chance to emotionally connect with people. ...
  • Acknowledge your biases.


On that note, I encourage everyone to spend a little time contemplating their own empathy skills.  Do they wax and wane depending upon your stress levels?  Do you make the time to convey empathy to your clients?  Can you strengthen some of the things that rank high in patient satisfaction studies, and / or take some time to work on yourself in the empathy department.  Foremost, talk with your clients, the pet owners, it’s high on their list of what they want from you.


Have a great, communicative, friendly, professional, educational, and shared decision-making week ahead!

Cheers, Laurie



1. Woolf J.  How Empathy Can Improve Clinical Outcomes.  Published April 28, 2021.

2. Hush JM, et al.  Patient satisfaction with musculoskeletal physical therapy care: A systematic review.  Physical Therapy, 91(1): 25 – 36.

3. Hall M, et al. Patient and practitioner perspectives of psychological need support in physical therapy.  Physiotherapy Theory and Practice. 2020. July 6: 1-16.

4. Dial M. Five Everyday Exercises for Building Empathy. Published July 30, 2019.

5. Borody B. Being Empathetic is Important. Can you Learn Empathy? Published July 7, 2020.

6. Adin DB, et al. Cross-Sectional Assessment of the Emotional Intelligence of Fourth-Year Veterinary Students and Veterinary House Officers in a Teaching Hospital. J Vet Med Educ. 2020 Apr;47(2):193-201.