Empathy & Relational Science Program

Research at the Empathy and Relational Science Program is ongoing and expanding into aspects of interpersonal interaction at all levels of healthcare

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Research activities

We have an active research program that seeks to integrate the human aspects of interpersonal interaction at all levels of healthcare with current research on the neurobiology and physiology of emotion, empathy, and the healing relationship.

CURRENT RESEARCH PROJECTS INCLUDE:

-- Nonverbal Clinician Communication
Empathy is essential for clinicians to communicate caring and create a positive patient experience. Nonverbal communication in particular has been shown to play a significant role in judgments of clinician empathy. We are exploring perceptions of nonverbal clinician communication.

-- Inter-Professional Communication
Inter-professional communication is crucial to providing quality health care to patients. Communication failures seem to be associated with adverse patient events. Studies suggest that such communication failures are the result of a lack of team integration and poor relationships between medical professionals. We are exploring the dynamics or inter-professional communication and effects on team cooperation and patient outcomes.

-- Cultural Empathy
Nonverbal and verbal communication is interpreted differently depending on one’s cultural upbringing. Understanding and responding compassionately to others relies on one’s ability to incorporate cultural aspects of empathy. We are examining features of empathy, which may be universal or culture specific, to determine how empathy can be best utilized globally.

COMPLETED RESEARCH PROJECTS INCLUDE:

-- Pilot Testing of Empathy Training
The development and pilot testing of a sophisticated empathy training program that sought to improve patient outcomes by integrating relational science into the training of healthcare professionals. A preliminary study investigating our training program showed significant improvements in physician empathy.

-- Randomized Controlled Trial of Empathy Training
We conducted a larger, multi-site randomized controlled trial, which showed that resident physicians who received our training program were rated by their patients as more empathic than physicians assigned to residency training as usual.

-- Long-term Follow-Up Study of Empathy Education Program
We conducted a follow-up study of our RCT empathy education, which investigated the long-term stability of improvements in physician empathy. The study also yielded qualitative data from physicians regarding their subjective experiences during the training, and their assessment of the long-term impact of the training on their clinical practices.

-- Systematic Literature Review
We conducted a systematic literature review of all randomized controlled trials investigating whether communication training of healthcare professionals improves patient outcomes. The purpose of this review was to systematically assess the current state of research evidence for the beneficial effects of communication training. The project serves as a guide to future research in this area.