The effectiveness of a serious game to enhance empathy for care workers for people with disabilities: A parallel randomized controlled trial

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Abstract

Background: Empathic care is fundamental in healthcare settings and is associated to several positive outcomes for care workers (i.e. burnout, compassion satisfaction) and patients (i.e. therapeutic alliance, trust, wellbeing). Yet, studies showed a decrease in empathy in care workers, which is argued to be a product of personal distress. Thus, interventions should aim at enhancing empathy in care workers working for vulnerable populations to ensure optimal client-carer relationships. Objectives: The current study investigates the effectiveness of the serious game “The world of EMPA” in enhancing empathy in care workers for people with disabilities, and tests the effect of personal distress on empathy change post intervention. Methods: We conducted a superiority parallel randomized controlled trial (RCT) and tested 224 participants in two conditions: the experimental group (n = 111) played a serious game and the control group (n = 113) read a digital information package about disabilities. Participants were assessed on empathy and personal distress prior to and after the intervention. Results: Main results showed that the serious game did not significantly enhance empathy in care workers, whereas reading a digital information package yield a significant decrease in empathy. Exploratory analysis showed that the serious game decreased significantly personal distress in care-workers. Conclusions: This study showed that while the serious game “The world of EMPA” did not enhance empathy, it resulted in a decrease in personal distress in care workers for people with disabilities. Further evidence should corroborate these findings to unveil the mechanisms of this intervention and the long-term effects on personal distress.

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Sterkenburg, P. S., & Vacaru, V. S. (2018). The effectiveness of a serious game to enhance empathy for care workers for people with disabilities: A parallel randomized controlled trial. Disability and Health Journal, 11(4), 576–582. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2018.03.003

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