Our research agenda is shaped by our vision to provide evidence-based empathic training with a measurable impact on patient care, outcomes and experience. It is categorised into five core themes:
Theme A: Building the evidence base for current tools and measures assessing the impact of empathy training
We will gather evidence of the current, validated tools used in a range of healthcare student and professional populations for measuring empathy to assess the impact of training interventions.
- A1. Systematic review of the tools/measures in use.
- A2. Strengths and limitations analysis of current measures.
- A3. Validation studies of appropriate tools for different populations.
- A4. Development of enhanced/improved tools to measure impact of empathy training (if need identified)
Theme A will provide essential research evidence that will be central to all other activities the Centre undertakes. Identifying, developing and using tools that can most accurately measure the impact the Centre’s empathy-focused training has on participants will allow evaluation and appropriate modification of teaching activities, as well as providing credibility for the franchise of the programme.
Theme B: Assessment of measurement strategies for assessing the impact of empathic practice on patient care and experience
Understanding how empathic care impacts on patient outcomes and experiences, and how this can most appropriately be measured, will be key to the Centre’s influence at the highest level. The Centre will aim to build on the evidence that empathic practice improves not just patient experience and satisfaction with their care but also, for example, reduces pain (and the need for analgesic medication), reduces length of hospital stay or number of GP appointments made, and makes care more cost effective.
- B1. Updated review of the clinical benefits of empathy training on patient outcomes
- B2. Systematic review of current tools used to assess the impact of empathic healthcare on patient outcomes.
- B3. Formation and evaluation of a battery of tools to assess impact.
Theme C: Educational intervention development and evaluation
The work will be guided by a curriculum framework in clinical empathy that identifies core competencies and outcomes used to demonstrate they have been achieved. Integration of an empathy-focused curriculum will be in partnership with Leicester Medical School and will be guided by the GMC’s Outcomes for Graduates.
There are 4 phases of research activity:
- C1. Evidence-informed intervention design to enhance our existing curriculum and identify new teaching interventions in partnership with Leicester Medical School, using a curriculum framework in clinical empathy to identify core competencies and outcomes.
- C2. Effectiveness research to test training interventions with medical students, with further cycles of refinement as necessary.
- C3. Implementation planning to work with Leicester Medical School to implement changes to the medical curriculum across all years.
- C4. Transferability design and dissemination to make an empathy-focused curriculum transferable to other areas of healthcare.
Theme C will initially focus on the development and testing of educational activities designed to nurture empathy in participants. Some aspects of this will focus on the enhancement of the original curriculum by re-purposing current teaching, whilst other aspects will focus on the implementation of newly designed lectures, small group tutorials and workshops.
Theme D: Empathy and medical student wellbeing
As the Centre moves towards developing its postgraduate training package (based on findings from research themes A-C), a clearer understanding of how empathy training can enhance practitioner wellbeing and resilience, and potentially reduce job-related stress and burnout will be key. To ensure uptake across the postgraduate and professional healthcare arena, Trusts and training bodies will be looking for the ‘added extras’ empathy training could provide to a struggling workforce.
- D1. Systematic review of the benefits to students and practitioners undergoing empathy training and a review of the measures used to assess benefits. The benefits may include improved retention.
- D2. Qualitative research to understand the benefits of students/doctors-in-training undergoing empathy-focused training developed by the Centre.
- D3. Development and design of an enhanced ‘self-empathy’ stream throughout the medical school curriculum.
Theme E: Identifying the barriers and enablers to empathic care and building strategies to mitigate/harness these
This theme will focus on the multitude of potential barriers that exist across systems to prevent empathic practice or lessen the impact that those practicing medicine with therapeutic empathy can have on the patients they care for, their colleagues and the environments they work in. It will also explore enablers to empathic care and how these can be incorporated more effectively. Strands of this research theme will include:
- E1. Literature review of evidence and knowledge base to understand what is currently known and identify key areas for further investigation.
- E2. Review of the impact of the pandemic on empathy, from the use of PPE and remote consultations to providing empathic care to those shielding and isolated.
- E3. Exploration of the role of assistive technology in healthcare to promote rather than hinder empathic practice.
- E4. Interdisciplinary projects to explore workplace factors, environment and management styles as barriers for empathic healthcare and how to overcome these.
Research, evaluation and partnerships to accelerate the adoption of empathic healthcare
Creating a movement for change within and across the healthcare sector requires us to identify and challenge the many barriers to adopting more empathic approaches to healthcare practice and governance.
Our Centre’s strong research focus means that all our curriculum enhancements and professional training programmes will be grounded in high-quality evidence. Alongside our teaching activities, our goal is to evidence:
- a) the impact of training on student and practitioner empathy
- b) the impact of empathic care on patient outcomes and experience
- c) the impact of providing empathic care on practitioner well-being, resilience and job satisfaction
- d) the barriers and enablers to empathic care and how these can be overcome and harnessed.
Building this credible and robust evidence base, together with compelling storytelling and advocacy across the spectrum of healthcare, will challenge the status quo and embed empathy in the hearts and minds of practitioners, leaders and policymakers.
We will collaborate with academics and clinicians at the University of Leicester and beyond, who are experts in healthcare systems, innovation, change management and human factors, and will use our research and influence to become a driving force for positive change in all healthcare settings.
The University of Leicester has an excellent reputation in providing research opportunities to doctors in training and is regularly awarded additional academic clinical fellowship and lecturer posts by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The Centre’s activities would provide exciting opportunities to enhance Leicester’s offering in medical education and research into empathy, both supporting our outputs and attracting excellent students and trainees to remain in Leicester.