Smith, KA, Bishop, FL, Dambha-Miller, H, Ratnapalan, M, Lyness, E, Vennik, J, Hughes, S, Bostock, J, Morrison, L, Mallen, C, Yardley, L, Everitt, H, Little, P and Howick, J (2020) Improving Empathy in Healthcare Consultations-a Secondary Analysis of Interventions. Journal of General Internal Medicine. ISSN 1525-1497

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A recent systematic review of randomised trials suggested that empathic communication improves patient health outcomes. However, the methods for training healthcare practitioners (medical professionals; HCPs) in empathy and the empathic behaviours demonstrated within the trials were heterogeneous, making the evidence difficult to implement in routine clinical practice. In this secondary analysis of seven trials in the review, we aimed to identify (1) the methods used to train HCPs, (2) the empathy behaviours they were trained to perform and (3) behaviour change techniques (BCTs) used to encourage the adoption of those behaviours. This detailed understanding of interventions is necessary to inform implementation in clinical practice. We conducted a content analysis of intervention descriptions, using an inductive approach to identify training methods and empathy behaviours and a deductive approach to describe the BCTs used. The most commonly used methods to train HCPs to enhance empathy were face-to-face training (n = 5), role-playing (n = 3) and videos (self or model; n = 3). Duration of training was varied, with both long and short training having high effect sizes. The most frequently targeted empathy behaviours were providing explanations of treatment (n = 5), providing non-specific empathic responses (e.g. expressing understanding) and displaying a friendly manner and using non-verbal behaviours (e.g. nodding, leaning forward, n = 4). The BCT most used to encourage HCPs to adopt empathy behaviours was "Instruction on how to perform behaviour" (e.g. a video demonstration, n = 5), followed by "Credible source" (e.g. delivered by a psychologist, n = 4) and "Behavioural practice" (n = 3 e.g. role-playing). We compared the effect sizes of studies but could not extrapolate meaningful conclusions due to high levels of variation in training methods, empathy skills and BCTs. Moreover, the methods used to train HCPs were often poorly described which limits study replication and clinical implementation. This analysis of empathy training can inform future research, intervention reporting standards and clinical practice.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Uncontrolled Keywords: empathy; consultation; communication
Subjects: R Medicine > R Medicine (General)
R Medicine > R Medicine (General) > R735 Medical education. Medical schools. Research
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Divisions: Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Primary, Community and Social Care
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Symplectic
Date Deposited: 23 Jul 2020 10:01
Last Modified: 30 Jul 2020 10:20

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