Technology Should be Used to boost Empathy-Based Medicine Royal Society Asserts


Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Dr Jeremy Howick and Dr Sian Rees of the Oxford Empathy Programme, say a new paradigm of empathy-based medicine is needed to improve patient outcomes, reduce practitioner burnout and save money.

Existing digital technologies must be exploited to enable a paradigm shift in current healthcare delivery which focuses on tests, treatments and targets rather than the therapeutic benefits of empathy, according to the eminent physicians.

Empathy-based medicine, they suggest, re-establishes relationship as the heart of healthcare.

“Time pressure, conflicting priorities and bureaucracy can make practitioners less likely to express empathy. By re-establishing the clinical encounter as the heart of healthcare, and exploiting available technologies, this can change”, Howick, a Senior Researcher in Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, commented.

It is known that technology is already available that could reduce the burden of practitioner paperwork by gathering basic information prior to consultation, for example via email or a mobile device in the waiting room.

For example, during the consultation, the computer screen could be placed so that both patient and clinician can see it.

This could enable infographics on risks and treatment options to aid decision-making and the joint development of a treatment plan.

Howick suggested that understanding of how this technology can be utilised effectively will develop in the immediate future.

“The spread of alternatives to face-to-face consultations is still in its infancy, as is our understanding of when a machine will do and when a person-to-person relationship is needed.”

However, Howick also believes that technology can be obstructive when used in an inappropriate fashion.

“A computer screen can become a barrier to communication rather than an aid to decision-making. “Patients and carers need to be involved in determining the need for, and designing, new technologies”.

‘Overthrowing barriers to empathy in healthcare: empathy in the age of the Internet’ (DOI: 10.1177/0141076817714443) by J Howick and S Rees has been published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine today.

It can be viewed at:

The JRSM is the flagship journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, and has been published continuously since 1809.


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