Cooper researchers find health care provider compassion is associated with lower PTSD symptoms among patients with life-threatening medical emergencies

Results of study to be published in Intensive Care Medicine

If patients experiencing a life-threatening medical emergency perceive their health care provider as compassionate, are they at a reduced risk for subsequently developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? This was something researchers at Cooper University Health Care and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University explored as part of a study about the effects of compassion in health care. The journal article will be published in an upcoming edition of “Intensive Care Medicine.”

Stephen W. Trzeciak, MD, MPH

Stephen W. Trzeciak, MD, MPH

“The overarching hypothesis for this line of research is that caregiver compassion can reduce psychological trauma for patients. In this initial study, we found that patient perception of compassion from the health care team during emergency situations has an independent association with a lower risk of developing PTSD symptoms later on,” said Stephen W. Trzeciak, MD, MPH, Chief of Medicine at Cooper University Health Care and Professor and Chair of Medicine at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, and one of the study’s co-authors. Dr. Trzeciak is co-author of the new book “Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference” and leading expert in “compassionomics,” the study of the impact of compassion on patient outcomes, costs, and provider burnout in the health care setting.

Brian W Roberts, MD

Brian W. Roberts, MD

“PTSD is a common psychological disorder characterized by re-experiencing distressing systems, avoidance of trauma reminders, and hyper arousal in people who have been exposed to a psychologically traumatic event,” explained Brian W. Roberts, MD, MSc, an emergency medicine physician at Cooper who served as principal investigator, mentor, and senior author for the study. “About one-quarter of people who go through a life-threatening medical emergency develop PTSD later on. Our team set out to see if patients who perceive their emergency department physicians as being more compassionate are at lower risk for developing PTSD symptoms.”

The study included approximately 100 adult patients who presented to the emergency department at Cooper with a life-threatening medical emergency such as respiratory or cardiovascular conditions requiring acute, potentially life-sustaining interventions and treatment. At the time of leaving the Emergency Department, the team assessed patient perception of health care provider compassion using the Consultation and Relational Empathy (CARE) measure, a validated 40-point research scale.

Blinded to clinical outcomes as well as the CARE measure, the team assessed PTSD symptoms one month post-discharge using a validated research scale, the PTSD Checklist for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Of those patients who completed the one-month follow-up, 25 percent had PTSD symptoms at one month. Adjusting for potential influencing factors such as severity of illness or intensive care unit admission, among others, the team found that patient perception of greater health care provider compassion in the ED was independently associated with lower PTSD symptoms at one month. The results revealed that a one-point increase in the CARE measure was associated with a 7 percent decrease in the odds of developing PTSD symptoms.

“While the results of this study indicate a relationship between perceived compassion and better medical care outcomes, more study is needed,” said Dr. Roberts. “Additional research is needed to test whether increasing caregiver compassion in the Emergency Department reduces psychological trauma and improves other health outcomes that follow from critical illness-related PTSD.”

“It may seem intuitive that compassion is a crucial element of caring for patients, but results like these show us that compassion matters – in not only meaningful ways, but also measurable ways,” said Dr. Trzeciak.

Jeena Moss, a medical student at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, was first author for the study. The full study can be found by clicking here.


Wendy A. Marano
Public Relations Manager

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