Empathy in patient care: from ‘Clinical Empathy’ to ‘Empathic Concern’

Clarissa Guidi, Chiara Traversa*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


As empathy gains importance within academia, we propose this review as an attempt to bring clarity upon the diverse and widely debated definitions and conceptions of empathy within the medical field. In this paper, we first evaluate the limits of the Western mainstream medical culture and discuss the origins of phenomena such as dehumanization and detached concern as well as their impacts on patient care. We then pass on to a structured overview of the debate surrounding the notion of clinical empathy and its taxonomy in the medical setting. In particular, we present the dichotomous conception of clinical empathy that is articulated in the debate around cognitive empathy and affective empathy. We thus consider the negative impacts that this categorization brings about. Finally, we advocate for a more encompassing, holistic conception of clinical empathy; one that gives value to a genuine interest in welcoming, acknowledging and responding to the emotions of those suffering. Following this line of reasoning, we advance the notion of ‘empathic concern’, a re-conceptualization of clinical empathy that finds its source in Halpern in Med Health Care Philos (2014) 17:301–311 engaged curiosity. We ultimately advance Narrative Medicine as an approach to introduce, teach and promote such an attitude among medical trainees and practitioners.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)573-585
Number of pages13
JournalMedicine Health Care and Philosophy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Clinical empathy
  • Empathic concern
  • Engaged curiosity
  • Narrative medicine
  • Patient care
  • Taxonomy


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