Gathering the Patient’s Story and Clinical Empathy

While nothing replaces meeting with a patient, reading another physician’s description of interviewing a patient can provide insights into physician-patient interactions that we cannot get when we ourselves are involved. In my view, “A Case of Baffling Fatigue with a Spectral Twist” illustrates clinical empathy in action.


Often confused with compassion, sympathy, and other benevolent emotions, clinical empathy involves emotional resonance, but is distinguished by curiosity. Whereas sympathy involves feeling as if one were “in the same boat” with another, empathy involves curiosity about another’s distinct experience. Vividly and specifically imagining another’s distinct world becomes possible with careful, attuned listening.


by Jodi Halpern, M.D., Ph.D.