Coming in Warm: Qualitative Study and Concept Map to Cultivate Patient-centered Empathy in Emergency Care

Katie E. Pettit, Nicholas A. Rattray, Hao Wang, Shanna Stuckey, D. Mark Courtney, Anne M. Messman, Jeffrey A. Kline*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Increased empathy may improve patient perceptions and outcomes. No training tool has been derived to teach empathy to emergency care providers. Accordingly, we engaged patients to assist in creating a concept map to teach empathy to emergency care providers. Methods: We recruited patients, patient caretakers and patient advocates with emergency department experience to participate in three separate focus groups (n = 18 participants). Facilitators guided discussion about behaviors that physicians should demonstrate to rapidly create trust; enhance patient perception that the physician understood the patient's point of view, needs, concerns, and fears; and optimize patient/caregiver understanding of their experience. Verbatim transcripts from the three focus groups were read by the authors, and by consensus, five major themes with 10 minor themes were identified. After creating a codebook with thematic definitions, one author reviewed all transcripts to a library of verbatim excerpts coded by theme. To test for inter-rater reliability, two other authors similarly coded a random sample of 40% of the transcripts. Authors independently chose excerpts that represented consensus and strong emotional responses from participants. Results: Approximately 90% of opinions and preferences fell within 15 themes, with five central themes: provider transparency, acknowledgment of patient's emotions, provider disposition, trust in physician, and listening. Participants also highlighted the need for authenticity, context, and individuality to enhance empathic communication. For empathy map content, patients offered example behaviors that promote perceptions of physician warmth, respect, physical touch, knowledge of medical history, explanation of tests, transparency, and treating patients as partners. The resulting concept map was named the “Empathy Circle.”. Conclusions: Focus group participants emphasized themes and tangible behaviors to improve empathy in emergency care. These were incorporated into the Empathy Circle, a novel concept map that can serve as the framework to teach empathy to emergency care providers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-144
Number of pages9
JournalAEM Education and Training
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency
  • Education
  • Emergency Medicine


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