Patient satisfaction

Communicating with Empathy: Tips for Messaging Patients

November 15, 2023
11 min read
Last updated on
  • Empathy is a critical part of patient care and communication.
  • As two-way messaging becomes a primary communication method for patients, physicians and healthcare professionals should be deliberate in their efforts to express empathy using this mode of communication.
  • Klara’s conversational patient engagement platform can be used to send empathetic messages to patients through routine outreach and in response to inbound patient messages.

Communicating with Empathy: Tips for Messaging Patients

As technology continues to transform healthcare, more and more medical practices are embracing two-way messaging for routine patient outreach and inbound patient requests. Two-way messaging is a convenient communication method that can benefit all parties — especially when practices express empathy in their messages as a way to build patient trust and boost patient satisfaction.

In this article, you’ll learn techniques for showing empathy to your patients, both in person and via two-way messages, including text messages and other messaging platforms.

Table of contents

Why showing empathy to patients is important

While there is no single definition for “empathy” in healthcare, the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE), used worldwide by clinical health professionals, defines empathy in patient care as “a cognitive attribute that involves an ability to understand the patient’s pain, suffering, and perspective combined with a capability to communicate this understanding and an intention to help.” 

Not to be confused with sympathy (the act of sharing the feelings of others), empathy is rooted in one’s understanding of someone’s feelings — even if we don’t share those feelings ourselves. It can be a critical component of patient care and patient communication

Part of being empathetic with patients means taking time to listen, acknowledging and validating concerns, and providing reassurance along the way. In many cases, patients are in a vulnerable state when they’re seeking medical care, so it can be important to make them feel comfortable, heard, and properly cared for. Clinical empathy could lead to improved health outcomes, higher patient satisfaction, and better treatment adherence.

Expressing empathy can be challenging — especially if you’re busy with several patients a day, balancing in-person and virtual visits, or catching up on paperwork. Fortunately, with a few simple strategies, you may be able to make your patient interactions more personal and empathetic.

8 strategies for showing patients empathy

You don’t need a background in customer service or psychology to learn how to show empathy to your patients. Here are eight communications strategies and cues that may help:

  1. Make eye contact: A simple way to show you’re present and listening is by making eye contact with your patients throughout the appointment. If any family members are in the exam room with you, make eye contact with them, too, so that they feel included. In addition, this strategy can be used on telemedicine calls.
  2. Share your process: These days, most physicians use computers or tablets during exams to record information in a patient’s EHR. If you’re one of them, consider starting the visit by walking patients through your process so they know you’re not using their appointment time to do other things.
  3. Sit down: When you are not examining a patient, sit down in the exam room. This simple gesture can signal that you are there to stay. While standing might seem harmless, it could make patients feel like you are waiting to rush out the door. Or it might make you more likely to cross your arms, which gives a negative, closed-off impression.
  4. Nod your head: Another simple way to show you’re listening is by nodding your head. You could pair this gesture with simple expressions like, “Mm-hmm” and “Uh-huh,” until it’s your turn to respond.
  5. Ask open-ended questions: As your patients share information and any health concerns, follow up with open-ended questions. For example, how are their symptoms impacting other areas of their life, what’s going on at home or work that could be contributing, etc.?
  6. Express acknowledgment — and respond without judgment: Reiterate what your patients have told you and provide reassurance for any concerns they might have. If a concern seems trivial or silly, don’t dismiss it — acknowledge the way they feel, then have a conversation about how to overcome it.
  7. Clarify: Before you move on to another topic or end the appointment, ask your patients if there’s anything you’ve missed or misunderstood. This further strengthens your commitment to listening, understanding, and helping.
  8. Optimize your digital communications: Physicians communicate digitally with patients more and more, using two-way messages, online web chats, and email. Expressing empathy digitally can be more challenging than in person, but it’s possible with personalized patient-centered messaging.

How two-way messaging and texting has changed patient–provider communication

Two-way messaging as a primary communication delivery channel is quickly becoming the norm — especially since the COVID-19 pandemic helped accelerate healthcare’s digital transformation

At a high level, messaging can be lower-cost, faster, and more scalable than making phone calls. Two-way messaging may also be the preferred method of communication for some, if not many, of your patients. Research shows that four out of five people would like to communicate with their healthcare providers via text. In addition, open and response rates for SMS are extremely high, at 98 percent and 45 percent, respectively. 


Enabling patients to initiate conversations through text messages can help patients connect with your practice on their terms.  You can also use a patient communication platform to send appointment reminders, share pre-visit instructions, gather insurance and intake forms, follow up on appointments, engage no-shows, and more.

5 tips for showing empathy to patients through messaging

There’s no denying the benefits that two-way messaging can potentially offer your practice. However, when communicating via text or chat, there is a chance your tone could be misinterpreted, feel impersonal, or lack empathy. To help you avoid this, try using the following tips to learn how to show empathy to patients when texting or chatting:

Tip #1: Address patients by name and add relevant personalizations

Whether you are sending an automated appointment reminder or responding to a message from a patient, personalize the interaction as much as possible. Here are two simple ways to do this: 

  • First-name field: Add a first-name field to your automated message template to dynamically include their name when they receive a message from you. Alternatively, you could start your manual response with “Hi [Patient’s First Name].” 
  • Other personalizations: If there are other relevant details to add — such as recent or future appointment dates, pre-visit instructions, etc. — include those as well. 

These simple steps may help humanize your conversation. 

Tip #2: Acknowledge potential fears and concerns

Depending on the reason for communication, you may want to add language to your message that acknowledges a common fear, problem, or concern. For example, some patients have a lot of anxiety when they go to the doctor — especially if they’re coming in for a procedure. In cases like this, you could update your appointment reminder message to say something like: 

“Hi [Patient First Name]. This is [My Medical Practice]. We look forward to seeing you at your upcoming visit on [Date]. We understand you might be nervous about this appointment, so please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. In the meantime, please reply with ‘1’ to confirm this appointment, ‘2’ to cancel, or ‘3’ to reschedule.”

Another common patient concern involves wait times — so proactively acknowledge this. For example, when sending your intake request via text, remind patients that collecting intake information before the appointment cuts down on wait times. The text could read:

“Hi [Patient First Name]. We look forward to seeing you at [My Medical Practice] this week. To avoid filling out paperwork by hand, you can save time by completing it at your earliest convenience, ahead of your appointment. Please click on the following link to upload and provide additional information. Thanks! [URL].”

Tip #3: Use conversational words and emojis

To further humanize your messages, avoid using technical medical jargon and opt for conversational language instead. Think about how you’d speak to a family member or friend. If you’re still worried about how your tone will be construed, a simple exclamation point or smiling face emoji can go a long way.

Tip #4: Allow patients to text your practice

Let your patients know you have a textable number, which they can use to initiate non-sensitive communications. This helps them see that you are making efforts to ease communication. After the patient initiates a conversation through text, consider using technology that allows you and the patient to discuss any sensitive topics and share PHI through a secure messaging platform.

Tip #5: Create strategies for automated vs. asynchronous messages

Messages to patients are generally either automated, routine messages or asynchronous (and sometimes real-time) two-way messaging conversations.  Regardless of the type of message a patient receives, it’s important to express empathy. Here’s how to do so for both types of messages:

Expressing empathy in automated messages

For automated messages and texts, update your templates with personalization fields, empathy statements, and conversational punctuation. That way, patients won’t feel like they’re messaging with a robot. As we mentioned in tips #1 and #2 above, adding a first name field and acknowledging your patient’s feelings may be a great start. You may also consider incorporating empathetic phrases as appropriate. Take a look at the following examples:

Appointment reminders:
  • “We understand your schedule may have changed.”
  • “We’re happy to reschedule if this time no longer works for you.”
  • “We look forward to seeing how you’re doing.”
  • “We’re looking forward to discussing ways to help you start feeling better.” 
Intake requests:
  • “We’re trying to cut down on wait times so we can get you in and out quickly.”
  • “We imagine you don’t want to sit in our waiting room for too long.”
Pre-visit instructions:
  • “We know you might be nervous about your appointment.”
  • “We want to make sure the appointment runs as smoothly as possible.”
Links to start telehealth visit:
  • “Hi [Patient First Name]! Dr. [Name] here. I’m looking forward to seeing you for our telehealth visit. Here’s the link to join: [URL].”
  • “How are you feeling since we saw you on [Date of Last Appointment]?”
  • “I just wanted to check in.”
  • “Is there anything you need from us today?”
No-show engagement:
  • “I’m sorry you weren’t able to make today’s appointment.”
  • “We understand that life happens. Can we get you rescheduled?”
  • “Is everything okay?”
Feedback and reviews:
  • “Your feedback is important to us.”
  • “How can we serve you better?”
  • “We want to make sure we’re providing you the best possible care.”

Expressing empathy in asynchronous messages

Asynchronous messaging can be tricky to handle. In many cases, incoming messages end up in a shared inbox and patients may have to wait for a response as messages get read and routed to the right person. To prevent patient frustrations, consider using an auto-reply that says something like:

“Hi! Thanks for reaching out to [My Medical Practice]. We are currently making sure your message goes to the right person in our office. We appreciate your patience and will be in touch as soon as possible. Talk soon!”

In addition to expectation-setting auto-replies like this one, you should also arm your staff with a variety of empathetic responses they can send manually. For example:

  • The first response to the patient: “Hi [Patient First Name]. This is [Your Name and, if it makes sense, Your Title]. Thank you for your patience. How can I help you today?”
  • If the patient waited more than one hour for a response: “I’m sorry for the wait.”
  • If the patient’s initial text mentioned a specific concern: “Thank you for sharing. Can you tell me more about that? I’m here to help.”

Tip #6: Include empathetic words or phrases

As we’ve discussed, expressing empathy is a way to acknowledge your patients’ feelings and problems, validate what they’re going through, and show your commitment to helping them. Next time you send a message to a patient, consider including some of these empathetic statements:

Empathy statements of acknowledgment:

  • “I’m sorry you’re feeling this way.”
  • “I’m sorry this is happening.”
  • “That sounds like a lot; I’m sorry.”
  • “I’m here to help.”
  • “I’m here for you.”
  • “I’m listening.”
  • “It sounds like you’re going through a challenging time.”
  • “I can see why you feel this way.”
  • “You’re not alone.”
  • “I understand how that can be of concern.”
  • “We’d love to take a look in person. When would you like to come in?”
  • “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well.”
  • “I’m sorry to hear the new medication isn’t helping.”
  • “That sounds difficult.”
  • “I can imagine that this feels [insert feeling].”
  • “You were right to reach out.”
  • “I understand this might not be making sense. I want to help.”

Empathy statements showing interest:

  • “How can I help right now?”
  • “How are you feeling?”
  • “What do you need from me?”
  • “Is there anything I can do for you right now?”
  • “Are you okay with this new plan?”
  • “Is there anything else?”
  • “I want to do what’s best for you.”
  • “Do you have any questions or concerns about this treatment plan?”

Empathy statements that clarify:

  • “It sounds like you may be feeling [reiterate what they’ve told you]. Is there anything I’ve missed?”
  • “I’d like to understand better. Can you tell me more about that?”
  • “Let’s make sure I have this right.”
  • “So I am hearing that [reiterate what they’ve told you]. Is that right?”
  • “Please correct me if I have this wrong… [reiterate what they’ve told you]”

Empathy statements that share gratitude:

  • “Thank you for opening up to me.”
  • “Thanks for sharing that with me.”
  • “I’m glad you shared this with me.”
  • “Good question. I’m glad you asked!”
  • “I understand this might be hard to talk about. I’m here to help.”

How to use Klara to send empathetic messages to patients

Klara, a conversational patient engagement platform for medical practices, is changing how practices communicate and collaborate with patients throughout the entire healthcare journey. According to Emmett Berg, DO and Medical Director of Healthline Medical Group, “Klara is a superb communication tool. It is unequivocally one of the best communication software applications that I have ever seen.”

Klara’s two-way messaging with patients helps medical practices personalize communication and automate routine communication, while also helping to easily manage inbound patient text messages and enabling replies through Klara’s messaging platform. With Klara, you can help streamline workflows while building a positive — and empathetic — relationship with your patients.

This blog is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or medical advice. Please consult with your legal counsel and other qualified advisors to ensure compliance with applicable laws, regulations and standards.

Klara can help your practice improve patient communication.
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