Evaluation of empathy measurement tools in nursing: systematic review

J Adv Nurs. 2009 Sep;65(9):1790-806. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2009.05071.x.


Aim: This paper is a report of a systematic review conducted to analyse, evaluate and synthesize the rigour of measures used in nursing research to assess empathy, in order to identify a 'gold standard' for application in future studies.

Background: Empathy is considered essential to the provision of quality care. We identified 20 different empathy measures used in nursing research. There are inconsistencies between tools, indicating both the inherent complexity of measuring empathy and the need to evaluate the rigour of the measures themselves.

Data sources: An extensive search was conducted for the period 1987 and 2007 using the Medline, CINAHL and PsycINFO databases and the keywords 'empathy', 'tool', 'scale', 'measure', 'nurse' and 'nursing'. Twenty-nine studies were identified as relevant, in which 20 different empathy measurement tools were used. Twelve tools met the inclusion criteria for this review.

Method: Twelve measures were critically reviewed and analysed. A 7-criterion framework was developed to appraise the rigour of the empathy measures, with a score range of 0-14 for each measure.

Results: Quality scores obtained were low (2-8 of 14). Validity and reliability of data were commonly reported, but responsiveness to change was tested in only three measures. None of the measures were psychometrically robust or covered all the domains of empathy. User involvement was limited and only five were developed in nursing settings.

Conclusion: Most measures have undergone rigorous development and psychometric testing, although none is both psychometrically and conceptually satisfactory. Empathy measures need to cover all relevant domains reflecting users' own perspectives and be tested with appropriate populations in relevant care settings.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Nurse-Patient Relations
  • Nursing Research / methods*
  • Psychometrics
  • Research Design / standards*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / standards*