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Improving Empathy in Healthcare Consultations-a Secondary Analysis of Interventions.


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A recent systematic review of randomised trials suggested that empathic communication improves patient health outcomes. However, the methods for training healthcare practitioners (medical professionals; HCPs) in empathy and the empathic behaviours demonstrated within the trials were heterogeneous, making the evidence difficult to implement in routine clinical practice. In this secondary analysis of seven trials in the review, we aimed to identify (1) the methods used to train HCPs, (2) the empathy behaviours they were trained to perform and (3) behaviour change techniques (BCTs) used to encourage the adoption of those behaviours. This detailed understanding of interventions is necessary to inform implementation in clinical practice. We conducted a content analysis of intervention descriptions, using an inductive approach to identify training methods and empathy behaviours and a deductive approach to describe the BCTs used. The most commonly used methods to train HCPs to enhance empathy were face-to-face training (n?=?5), role-playing (n?=?3) and videos (self or model; n?=?3). Duration of training was varied, with both long and short training having high effect sizes. The most frequently targeted empathy behaviours were providing explanations of treatment (n?=?5), providing non-specific empathic responses (e.g. expressing understanding) and displaying a friendly manner and using non-verbal behaviours (e.g. nodding, leaning forward, n?=?4). The BCT most used to encourage HCPs to adopt empathy behaviours was "Instruction on how to perform behaviour" (e.g. a video demonstration, n?=?5), followed by "Credible source" (e.g. delivered by a psychologist, n?=?4) and "Behavioural practice" (n?=?3 e.g. role-playing). We compared the effect sizes of studies but could not extrapolate meaningful conclusions due to high levels of variation in training methods, empathy skills and BCTs. Moreover, the methods used to train HCPs were often poorly described which limits study replication and clinical implementation. This analysis of empathy training can inform future research, intervention reporting standards and clinical practice.


Mallen. (2020). Improving Empathy in Healthcare Consultations-a Secondary Analysis of Interventions. Journal of General Internal Medicine,

Acceptance Date Jun 15, 2020
Publication Date Jul 14, 2020
Journal Journal of General Internal Medicine
Print ISSN 0884-8734
Publisher Springer Verlag
Keywords empathy; consultation; communication
Publisher URL


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