The Role of Empathetic Care in Promoting Safety in Health Care

April 26, 2018

The ILR Review recently published a report by RSF grantee Carrie Leana (University of Pittsburgh)—a member of RSF’s working group on care work and contributor to the 2012 RSF book For Love and Money—and colleagues Jirs Meuris and Cait Lamberton (University of Pittsburgh). In their RSF-supported study, the authors look at how empathy affects turnover and patient safety among nursing aides who care for the elderly. What does it mean to perform caregiving job with empathy, and how does empathy affect the outcomes of both those who receive care and those who provide it? Their abstract states:

In this article, the authors use inductive and deductive methods to explore the role of empathy in care-giving jobs: specifically, the relationship between empathetic care and patient safety. The authors argue that empathetic care is evidenced by extra-role behavior, emotional engagement, and relational richness between paid care- givers and clients. They develop a model using qualitative interviews with paid caregivers and test it using quantitative case studies in six skilled-nursing facilities. Findings show that empathetic care predicts patient safety, but only under some circumstances. Specifically, patient load, overtime work, and financial hardship dampen the otherwise positive relationship between empathetic care and safety. The authors discuss the implications of these findings for the design of care jobs.

RSF’s working group on care work was formed in 2009 to study the social organization of care work in the United States and tackle the difficult policy problems that arise from the fact that market care is not a perfect substitute for family care. Drawing on diverse disciplines, areas of expertise, and methodological orientations, the working group has developed an innovative research agenda that provides a theoretically unified and empirically substantive analysis of care provision in the United States. Many of their findings were published in the volume For Love and Money, edited by Nancy Folbre.

Read or download the article in full.

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