… clinical empathy has a specific function, or goal, which is to discern the particular meanings that a symptom or a diagnosis has for an individual.

Source: Halpern J (2001) From Detached Concern to Empathy. Humanizing Medical Practice. Oxford University Press.

… a broad concept of empathy, being more complex and nuanced than compassion, is a more relevant and useful construct for clinical practice, medical research and education … which combines affective, cognitive, behavioural and moral dimensions. These dimensions vary in expression according to the individual patient, healthcare professional and to their clinical situation. Empathy is a dynamic process which is dependent on the clinical context and occurs in a reciprocal relationship with a patient. It comprises the following features:

  • Connection: involving emotional sharing with the patient in a two-way relationship.
  • Clinical curiosity: to gain insight into the patient’s concerns, feelings and distress, giving patients a sense that they matter.
  • Another-orientated perspective: the doctor tries to imagine what it is like to be the patient and to see the world from the patient’s perspective.
  • Self–other differentiation: this respects the patient as an individual with dignity.
  • Care: acting appropriately on the understanding gained to help the patient.

A benefit of this model of empathy is that it focuses on developing skills, attitudes and moral concern rather than just urging medical students and doctors to be more compassionate.

Source: Jeffrey D (2016) Empathy, sympathy and compassion in healthcare: is there a problem? Is there a difference? Does it matter? Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 109(12): 446-452. First published December 6, 2016. https://doi.org/10.1177/0141076816680120

Example of the term in use:

The importance of empathy in delivering health care has been known for a long time. A wide range of evidence points to the fact that doctors and nurses who are empathetic tend to provide better care. Studies also suggest that being treated with dignity and respect matters more for patient satisfaction even than pain control. At a time when health care is being transformed by technology and automation, such findings remind us just how important the human factor will remain.

Horton J (2016) The Importance of Empathy. 12 December 2016. The Health Foundation. https://www.health.org.uk/blog/importance-empathy