(HealthDay News) — Physicians who make direct eye contact and engage in a moderate amount of social touch are perceived by patients as being more empathetic, according to research published online Aug. 14 in the Journal of Participatory Medicine.

Enid Montague, Ph.D., of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, and colleagues reviewed videotaped clinical encounters and asked patients to fill out questionnaires to assess the association between nonverbal communication behaviors and patient perceptions of clinician empathy.

The researchers found that eye contact was positively linked with the patient’s assessment of clinician empathy and rating of attributes, such as connectedness with the clinician and how much they liked the clinician. Length of visit and social touch also were positively associated with perception of clinician empathy.

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“Clinical environments designed for patient and clinician interaction should be designed to facilitate positive nonverbal interactions such as eye contact and social touch,” Montague and colleagues conclude.