Patient perceptions of empathy in primary care telephone consultations: a mixed methods study

Jane Vennik, Stephanie Hughes, Emily Lyness, Clare McDermott, Kirsten A. Smith, Mary Steele, Jennifer Bostock, Jeremy Howick, Paul Little, Geraldine Leydon, Christian Mallen, Leanne Morrison, Beth Stuart, Hazel Everitt, Felicity L. Bishop*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Downloads (Pure)


Objective: Clinical empathy can enhance patient outcomes. This study examined patients’ perceptions of empathy in primary care consultations delivered by telephone. 

Methods: A mixed methods study was nested in a larger feasibility study conducted May-October 2020. Adults reporting a UK primary care consultation in the previous 2 weeks completed an online survey. A sample of survey respondents participated in a semi-structured qualitative interview. Interviews were analysed thematically. 

Results: Survey respondents (n = 359) rated practitioners as between ‘good’ and ‘very good’ at established patient-reported indicators of clinical empathy. Telephone consultations were rated slightly lower than face-to-face or other consultations. 30 survey respondents were interviewed. Three qualitative themes identified how telephone consultations can shape clinical empathy: setting for an empathic encounter; feeling connected; being acknowledged. 

Conclusion: Primary care patients typically perceive good levels of clinical empathy in telephone consultations; specific features of telephone consultations may facilitate and/or hinder clinical empathy. 

Practice implications: To ensure patients feel listened to, acknowledged and understood, practitioners may need to increase their empathic verbalisations in telephone consultations. By using verbal responses to demonstrate active listening and by clearly describing and/or implementing next steps in management, practitioners may be able to enhance clinical empathy in telephone consultations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107748
Number of pages7
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Early online date2 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2023


  • Clinical empathy
  • Communication
  • General practice
  • Mixed methods
  • Primary healthcare
  • Qualitative

Cite this