Gathering the Patient’s Story and Clinical Empathy

Until the past two decades, physicians (unlike other caregivers) have been skeptical about empathy, assuming that it would interfere with their clinical objectivity and effectiveness. This has shifted as research has shown that empathy plays a fundamental role in both diagnostic accuracy and treatment effectiveness. Repeated studies show that patients first give superficial clues about their histories until they sense empathy, and only then disclose anxiety-provoking information (as happened in the reported case).


Such disclosure is crucial for making the correct diagnosis. Empathy is also important for establishing trust, and trust is a powerful determinant of adherence to treatment and thus effectiveness of care.2


Even when clinicians need to deliver bad news, their empathic engagement matters, empowering patients to take earlier steps in organizing treatment and self-care….


by Jodi Halpern, MD, PhD