A comprehensive model for optimizing empathy in person-centered care

Patient Educ Couns. 2013 Nov;93(2):209-15. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2013.05.016. Epub 2013 Jun 14.


Objective: This study examined perspectives regarding the use of empathy within medicine and developed a model to demonstrate the components of empathy in a medical setting.

Methods: Grounded theory guided the methodology and final theory formation. Participants included 21 medical professionals representing multiple specialty areas and employed in a teaching hospital, private practice, or clinical setting in Eastern Virginia. Processes for transcription analysis and coding preserved participant perspectives and contributed to a final model.

Results: Participant interviews revealed a seven-tier model that displays the facilitative conditions and potential barriers that may impact the full expression of empathy within the medical setting. Interviews also delineated between levels of empathy and described the benefits of providing empathic care, all of which are included in the final model.

Conclusion: This new model of empathy describes a complex and dynamic process and conceptualizes ideal conditions for empathic treatment. The model presents concepts that may be useful in medical education, and creates new directions for empathy research.

Practice implications: Physicians can assess themselves along each level of the model and can use it to identify barriers as well as ensure optimal conditions for empathic treatment. This new conceptualization of empathy also has implications for medical training and directions for future research.

Keywords: Empathy; Grounded theory; Medical training; Patient satisfaction; Patient-centered care.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Communication
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Patient-Centered Care / standards*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Quality Improvement
  • Virginia