Empathy and Relational Science Program: Our History
History of our program
The Empathy and Relational Science Program offers teaching, training, consultation, and research to improve empathy in health care. The Empathy and Relational Science Program has grown from decades of academic and pedagogical experience in optimizing the patient-physician relationship.
Dr. Helen Riess has devoted her career to supervising and mentoring resident physicians in relational skills. Dr. Riess is a psychiatrist who developed an empathy training approach based on cutting-edge research in the neurobiology and physiology of empathy at Massachusetts General Hospital.
This approach has been rigorously tested at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in pilot studies and a randomized, controlled trial. The training has resulted in improved physician empathy. This improvement was determined by patient ratings before and after the training, and demonstrates that empathic skills can be learned and enhanced.
Dr. John Kelley is a clinical psychologist and faculty expert on placebo research that is identifying powerful relationship factors that play a role in patient perception of medical symptoms and pain. His extensive research is shedding light on relationship factors that inform relational skills training. Dr. Kelley's research and biostatistics expertise provide leadership for the research arm of our program.
Patient satisfaction with medical care is a foremost priority of Massachusetts General Hospital and Partners Healthcare Systems. Our empathy training approach was integral to a quality improvement initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital that trained over 1500 physicians. Increased scrutiny of patient satisfaction ratings has led to leadership efforts to improve how our patients receive care. These efforts have resulted in improved patient satisfaction with their healthcare providers.
Studies have demonstrated that the degree of empathy plays a significant role in improving outcomes in medicine, adherence to treatments, predicting quality of care, patient safety and satisfaction, and in decreasing malpractice claims. Research also documents that empathy tends to decline throughout medical training and that this decline is often not addressed.
Using both didactic and experiential learning, our training incorporates the science of emotional connection, techniques to enhance emotional self-regulation and skills for managing challenging patient interactions. Our program goals are to provide expertise in these critical domains to ensure patient safety and wellbeing, to improve patient satisfaction, and also to improve physician and healthcare provider empathic skills and career satisfaction.
By addressing greater satisfaction in both patients and providers, we aim for improvement in all medical encounters.