How to Spread Empathy in Health Care: an “epidemic of empathy”

Social network scientists have shown that emotions and values can spread in a community with the same patterns as infectious diseases. They have described how the people who are most connected to others may be the first ones to get hot gossip, but they are also most likely to get the scary new virus that has just shown up in town.

These observations suggest an interesting opportunity for making health care better, and even more efficient – if health care organizations can figure out how to create an “epidemic of empathy.”

What would an epidemic of empathy look like? There would be a steady, relentless increase in the proportion of clinicians and other personnel who are clearly tuned in to what was really happening to patients and their families.

Coordinated and empathic care would not seem to patients as miraculous and unpredictable as the lightning bolt of love (“un colpo di fulmine,” as the Italians put it). Instead, delivery of such care would become the norm; it would become increasingly fundamental to the way health care personnel saw themselves.

by Thomas H. Lee, MD