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The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Patient- Centred Care

The principles of patient-centred care are increasingly stressed as part of health care policy and practice. Explanations for why some practitioners seem more successful in achieving patient-centred care vary, but a possible role for individual differences in personality has been postulated. One of these, emotional intelligence (EI), is increasingly referred to in health care literature.
June 17, 2021

The principles of patient-centred care are increasingly stressed as part of health care policy and practice. Explanations for why some practitioners seem more successful in achieving patient-centred care vary, but a possible role for individual differences in personality has been postulated. One of these, emotional intelligence (EI), is increasingly referred to in health care literature.


Many health care systems around the world are emphasizing a need for more patient-centred care. Patient-centred care is a multi-dimensional concept which addresses patients’ needs for information, views the patient as a whole person, promotes concordance and enhances the professional-patient relationship. However, health care professionals vary in their ability to achieve an understanding of the patient perspective and provide patient-centred care. One possible explanation is that individual differences in the personal characteristics of professionals may account for at least some of this variation.

Examination of the individual characteristics of health professionals and how they might relate to patient-centred care is a relatively new and under-explored approach. There seems to be no definitive answer as to how important any one such factor might be. There are many psychological approaches which might be taken, including an examination of personality traits, the idea of multiple intelligences which address areas beyond standard IQ, and the study of attitudes and beliefs.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is one such personal characteristic, and is increasingly referred to as having a potential role in medicine, nursing and other health care professions. It is suggested that EI is important for effective practice, particularly with respect to delivering patient-centred care.

What is Emotional Intelligence 

Although work conceptualizing EI was underway in the early 1990s, popular interest in EI arose from Goleman’s ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ’, which suggested that life success depended more on the ability to understand and control emotions than on IQ. As is often the case with psychological constructs, the use of a variety of terms makes it difficult to agree on an overarching definition of EI, and it has been referred to as emotional literacy, the emotional quotient, personal intelligence, social intelligence and interpersonal intelligence. Perhaps one of the best and most circumspect definitions of EI is ‘a set of abilities (verbal and non-verbal) that enable a person to generate, recognize, express, understand and evaluate their own and others’ emotions in order to guide thinking and action and successfully cope with environmental demands and pressures.

Evidence Behind EI

Outside of health care, EI has been widely cited as an attribute which can improve the quality of work and increase productivity and personal and organisational success. In the small number of empirical evaluations that have been undertaken, the emphasis is on predicting academic or work-related outcomes. In education, for example, EI has been positively associated with academic success and low EI with deviant behaviour, drug taking, alcohol abuse and poor relationships with friends. In more general settings EI has been associated with life satisfaction. While some of these studies address causal relationships, looking at EI as a predictor of future outcomes, the majority examine EI in cross-sectional studies. A lack of longitudinal work to substantiate any claims for outcome improvement resulting from either selection incorporating EI measures or training in EI presents a significant limitation to any conclusions regarding its predictive power as a construct.

While the evidence for applications of EI in real world settings is sparse, there is some work which suggests EI may be related to job performance and satisfaction. EI has also been linked with enhanced ability to identify emotional expressions, higher ratings of social support and satisfaction with social support, more effective mood management,better adaptation to stress and better social interaction. 

Emotional Intelligence in Health Care 

If we are to determine whether there is a role for EI in health care, it must be rigorously evaluated where its value is hypothesized. The state of the current evidence base suggests that there are a number of questions which need to be posed before any conclusions as to the usefulness of this construct can be reached. Based on our understanding of the construct of EI and the way in which it has been employed in non-health settings, we addressed the strength of evidence for the relationship between EI and four areas which would seem to be important questions for health care.

  1. How EI in health professionals might impact on patient-centred care, patient satisfaction and quality of care;
  2. How EI might impact on issues of job satisfaction and performance;
  3. Whether EI training for health professionals may impact on personal as well as patient-centred outcomes;
  4. Whether measurement of EI should be part of the selection and recruitment process for health care professionals and students.

The Relationship Between Emotional Intelligence & Patient-Centred Care

Emotional Intelligence and Patient Centered Care Graphic

References:

Birks. Y., and Watt. S., (2007) ‘Emotional intelligence and patient-centred care’ . https://dx.doi.org/10.1258%2Fjrsm.100.8.368 [Accessed 17 June 2021]

Regis College, (2018) ‘The Importance of Emotional Intelligence’ Available at: https://online.regiscollege.edu/blog/importance-emotional-intelligence/ [Accessed 17 June 2021]

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