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Inspired by the power of empathy

As a psychiatrist and founder of the Empathy and Relational Sciences Program at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Dr. Helen Riess and her clinical research team were concerned with clinical reports and national headlines about the decline in the patient experience throughout the country, which has only been exacerbated by the global pandemic.  One member remarked, “I think what patients really want is empathy-- too bad we can’t teach it!”  Answering the question of whether empathy can be taught became a career-defining quest. Dr. Riess has devoted her teaching career at Harvard Medical School to improving the patient-physician relationship.

Dr. Riess Tedx Talk On the Power of Empathy


The neuroscience of empathy was being explored by neuroscientists all over the world. The prevailing wisdom was that empathy was an inborn trait that you either had or did not have. A Medical Education Fellowship at Harvard Medical School gave Dr. Riess the chance to explore the neuroscience of empathy and develop an empathy education innovation that could be rigorously tested. The research team sought to determine whether patients could perceive a difference in physicians who were trained in empathy versus those who were not and whether patient ratings of physician empathy improved. 

Pilot studies at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary were conducted in surgeons to test the hypothesis that the neuroscience-based training improved empathy, and to see whether the impact of the training endured one year later. A randomized controlled trial, the gold standard of research, was then conducted at MGH to definitively prove whether physician empathy could be taught and learned in multiple specialties. Importantly, the study’s main outcome measure was to determine whether patients reported an improvement in their experiences with their physicians on a highly validated and reliable empathy scale called the Consultation and Relational Empathy (CARE) Measure after physicians were trained in empathy. The groundbreaking results proved that the empathy intervention significantly improved the patient experience. The results, published in peer reviewed medical journals,  were soon picked up by the New York Times.  This opened the door to scaling this training to benefit healthcare organizations all over the world.  In addition to improving the patient experience, Empathetics is also helping client partners achieve increased wellness and retention of their clinical and non-clinical staff. 

Client Reviews

Our evidence-based training programs help healthcare organizations transform their culture and practice with the power of empathy.

Empathetics is a wellness tool that increases our Patient Experience scores. While physicians did not change the length of their visits, patients' perception of provider’s time-spent increased, per their CG-CAHPS scores.

Robert Altman, M.D., M.B.A.
President and CEO of Sutter Gould Medical Group

I consider Empathetics to be foundational to the practice of empathy in healthcare. This program improves interactions with patients and helps us develop more empathy for ourselves. Empathetics’ training enhances human connection and reduces risk.

Diane Light, DO, FACOS
Surgeon, CMO Healthcare Services Group, a professional liability insurance company.

We saw an 83% decrease in clinician turnover, a 50% reduction in non-clinical staff turnover, and sustained improvement in patient experience with Empathetics even during COVID.

P. Adam Dodd, MD
Medical Director of Quality and the Patient Experience Sutter Gould Medical Group
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