The Effect of Physician Self-disclosure on Patient Outcomes
Objectives: Physician self-disclosure is typically seen as patient-centered communication because it creates rapport and is seen as an expression of empathy. However, the effects of physician self-disclosure on patients are not always positive. Given that many physician behaviors affect patients differently depending on whether they are shown by a female or male physician, we set out to test whether physician gender coupled with physician self-disclosure affects how patients perceive their physicians and how they want to interact with them.
Method: Two hundred and forty-four participants were recruited and randomly assigned to read one of 4 vignettes as if they were the patient in the dialogue (analogue patient design). They were then asked to report how they perceived the physician and how they would react to him or her.
Results: Self-disclosure in and of itself did not affect patient outcomes and only slightly altered the perception of the physician. However, physician self-disclosure had an effect on the behavioral intentions of the patients (i.e., willingness to self-disclose) and this was moderated by physician gender: Patients were more willing to self-disclose to female than to male physicians who self-disclosed.
Conclusion: Our study shows that when female physicians self-disclose, this might be beneficial for the patient and the physician-patient relationship. However, for male physicians, self-disclosure does not have the same positive impact on patients.
Practice implications: Our results underline the importance of taking into account physician gender when training physicians in patient-centered communication because the same behavior can have different effects for female and for male physicians.