The Emerging Issue of Digital Empathy

Christopher Terry, PharmD; Jeff Cain, EdD, MS


Am J Pharm Educ. 2016;80(4):58 

In This Article

Digitization of Health Care

The importance of the digital empathy construct has developed over time as societal communication trends and technology use have intersected with the provision of health care services. According to a national survey of health care and information technology professionals conducted by Intel Corporation, health care delivery in the United States will undergo dramatic changes in the near future with the increase in utilization of technology and telemedicine.[7] Eighty-nine percent of health care executives and IT professionals interviewed via phone expected telemedicine to transform the US health care system in the next decade. Two of every three respondents to the survey stated they used telemedicine services and, of those who did not use telemedicine services at that time, half said they planned to implement the technology within the year.[7]

While telemedicine and other Medicine 2.0[8] services are becoming more popular, research indicates that expression of empathy is reduced in these digital settings. In a crossover study at Gunma University Hospital in Japan, telemedicine consultations via video chat between doctors and patients in two separate rooms communicating through cameras mounted on computer monitors and face-to-face consultations were assessed and compared. Affective behavior patterns, specifically empathy utterances, were less evident in telemedicine consultations.[9] Although only one study, this significant finding suggests a small measure of validity to the anecdotal evidence that expression of empathy is lacking in technology-based settings and warrants an examination and discussion of the issues in a public forum, particularly a conversation about how to appropriately address these concerns.