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Being Empathetic May Take the Sting out of Blood Draws

Empathetic and courteous health care providers may help decrease patients’ experience of pain, especially pain during blood draws, according to researchers at Rush University Medical Center. They presented the results of their study at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists earlier this month.

The research found that when the person taking their blood was courteous, patients were 390% more likely to say they were very satisfied with pain control. In this study, the empathetic provider asked about the patients’ previous experience with needles and took the patient’s preferences into account.

“It’s not surprising that a courteous health care worker can improve the patient experience, but we were shocked at just how powerful that factor was,” said Mario Moric, author of the study and a biostatistician at the Medical Center. “We thought the more needle sticks a patient had, the higher the pain perception would be, but we found that effect was small.”

“It turns out the experience of pain is much more significantly affected by the attitude of the people treating you.”

Study analyzed survey responses of nearly 5,000 hospitalized patients

In this study, the researchers examined whether more blood draws would increase the pain experience and whether the health care provider’s courteousness would ease the discomfort of a higher number of needle sticks. The researchers analyzed responses by 4,740 adult patients to three survey questions about their experience when they were hospitalized.

Two questions were about pain control and one was about the courtesy of the person who drew their blood. Patients answered from 1 (never) to 4 (always) for each pain question and 1 (very poor) to 5 (very good) for the courtesy question.

Researchers determined that 3,882 of the 4,740 patients (82%) answered 4 (always) when asked how often the staff did “everything they could to help you with your pain?” and 3,112 (65%) answered 4 when asked “how often was your pain well-controlled?” As the number of needle sticks went up, those rates declined to 60% and 56%, respectively. 

The Rush study also looked at patients’ responses regarding courtesy and found that the patients who answered 5 (very good) for “courtesy of the person who took blood” were 390% more likely to have rated their pain control as a 4 (always) than those who rated their provider less courteous (4 or less).

‘Being kind makes a big difference’

Although the pain questions addressed the experience throughout the hospital stay, the researchers note that repetitious blood draws often are a significant source of patients’ anxiety and concern, and therefore a large part of the pain experience. The results suggest that while getting blood drawn several times a day can be unpleasant, if the person drawing blood is empathetic, a patient’s overall pain experience can be improved.

“Our research has real life implications for improving the patient experience with regards to pain,” said Francis A. Fullam, assistant professor of Health Systems Management in the College of Health Sciences at Rush University and co-author of the study.

“Listening to patients and letting them know you are trying to minimize their discomfort is really powerful and should be a focus for all health care training programs,” said Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran, an author of the study and the William Gottschalk, MD, Professor of Anesthesiology at Rush. Buvanendran also serves as chair of the American Society of Anesthesiologists Pain Committee. “Being kind makes a big difference in the patient experience, and that’s good for everyone.”


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