Ten approaches for enhancing empathy in health and human services cultures

J Health Hum Serv Adm. 2009 Spring;31(4):412-50.


Empathy is defined as a predominantly cognitive attribute that involves an understanding of experiences, concerns and perspectives of another person, combined with a capacity to communicate this understanding. Empathy in the context of clinical care can lead to positive patient outcomes including greater patient satisfaction and compliance, lower rates of malpractice litigation, lower cost of medical care, and lower rate of medical errors. Also, health professionals' wellbeing is associated with higher empathy. Enhancing empathic engagement in patient care is one of the important tasks of medical education. In this article, I briefly describe 10 approaches for enhancing empathy in the health care environment: improving interpersonal skills, audio- or video-taping of encounters with patients, exposure to role models, role playing (aging game), shadowing a patient (patient navigator), hospitalization experiences, studying literature and the arts, improving narrative skills, theatrical performances, and the Balint method. I conclude that empathic engagement in the health care and human services is beneficial not only to the patients, but also to physicians, other health care providers, administrators, managers, health care institutions, and the public at large.

MeSH terms

  • Empathy*
  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • Health Services*
  • Humans
  • Organizational Culture*