Dispelling the Myth of Empathy in Patient Care

Empathy in patient care would be a myth if it could not be operationally defined, if it could not be quantitatively measured, if it could not be taught, and if it could not predict clinical outcomes. In this blog I provide evidence to dispel the myth.

Definition: Empathic engagement is the pillar of the patient-doctor relationship, which is not only beneficial to the patient, but also to the doctor.  Because of the ambiguity associated with the concept of empathy, based on an extensive review of the literature, we defined empathy in the context of medical education and patient care as “predominantly a cognitive (as opposed to emotional or affective) attribute that involves an understanding (as opposed to feeling) of patients’ concerns and experiences combined with a capacity to communicate this understanding, and an intention to help.”

The key components (in Italics) underscore their significance in this definition, and make a distinction between empathy (predominantly a cognitive attribute) and sympathy (predominantly an affective or emotional reaction), which have different consequences in patient care.

We found that empathy erodes as
medical students progress through
medical school, 

by  Mohammadreza Hojat