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Researchers at Cooper University Health Care and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University earn perfect score on federal grant to study disparities in doctor-patient relationships

(CAMDEN, NJ) – Researchers at Cooper University Health Care and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) recently received a two-year grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to study disparities in doctor-patient relationships. Specifically, the study will use a scale that the researchers previously developed and validated to measure patients’ experience of compassion from doctors during clinic visits, and test for disparities in compassion by patient race and ethnicity as well as patient socioeconomic status.  

The AHRQ’s scientific review group gave the grant application an impact score of 10, which is a perfect score, and it placed the Cooper/CMSRU grant in the top 1% of all research grant applications received.

“Compassion is foundational for high quality healthcare. However, there is a paucity of research on disparities in compassionate care,” said Stephen Trzeciak, MD, MPH, chief of medicine at Cooper and professor and chair of medicine at CMSRU. Dr. Trzeciak is principal investigator on the grant with Brian W. Roberts, MD, MSc., a physician scientist in emergency medicine at Cooper and CMSRU, serving as study director.

“We will test the hypothesis that patients in populations that experience health disparities (e.g., patients who are Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, or have low socioeconomic status independent of race or ethnicity) experience less compassion from clinicians compared to other patients, and we will test how this is associated with patient trust of the healthcare system,” said Dr. Trzeciak.

The overarching hypothesis of this line of research is that lower compassion from clinicians is associated with lower patient trust of the healthcare system, and higher risk of being lost to follow-up (i.e., not coming back for further care) which can be harmful to patients. The research will enroll 350 adult patients in doctor’s offices in urban, suburban, and rural practices to capture a wide range of diverse patients from different settings. 

“Prior research supports that patients in populations that experience health disparities may experience low quality relationships with physicians and other clinicians. This study will further test that premise, while also identifying specific clinician behaviors that communicate compassion (or lack of) from the patient perspective” said Dr. Roberts.

Drs. Trzeciak and Roberts are among the leading researchers in the field of compassion science. Compassion has always been considered a vital aspect of the “art of medicine,” but emerging research has shown that compassion also has measurable beneficial effects belonging in the “science of medicine.” 

Dr. Trzeciak is the co-author, along with Anthony J. Mazzarelli, MD, JD, MBE, of two highly acclaimed books: Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence That Caring Makes a Difference (2019), and Wonder Drug: 7 Scientifically Proven Ways That Serving Others Is the Best Medicine for Yourself (2022).

Dr. Roberts has also made significant contributions to the field including the development of the standardized method to measure compassion in clinical practice used in this research.  Dr. Roberts has also led research focused on the relationship between clinician compassion and the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among patients going through life-threatening medical emergencies.

“By studying and understanding different evidence-based aspects of compassion, the medical community will be positioned to provide better care for patients, as well as better training for the next generation of healthcare professionals,” said Dr. Roberts.