Mehiläinen’s Digital Clinic’s academic article published in a scientific journal – conveying empathy in a chat environment

In 2018–2019, Mehiläinen participated in the Quantifying Human Experience for Increased Intelligence Within Work Teams and in the Customer Interface (HUMEX) project coordinated by the University of Helsinki, which aimed to produce new information about the mechanisms of high-quality digital interaction. In the subproject carried out at Mehiläinen, the conveyance of empathy between the physician and the patient in the Digital Clinic’s chat environment was studied.

The scientific journal Psychosomatic Medicine approved the peer-reviewed article written about the study  for their May issue.

- The proposal to participate in the research project was submitted by the University of Helsinki, who were looking for business partners who develop their customer experience in a determined and unprejudiced manner. For Mehiläinen, the research project offered a new type of possibility to study the functionality of customer interaction in Digital Clinic. Mehiläinen carries out scientific research work actively, and it is wonderful that the first scientific article about Digital Clinic has now been published, says Mehiläinen’s Customer Insight Manager Soili Peltola, who is one of the authors of the article.

- Research results show that the patient’s experience of empathy shown by the physician is not only important in face-to-face meetings, but also when the interaction happens in a chat. The results indicate that it is useful to develop methods that support the patient’s experience of empathy in online interaction with physicians, says Peltola.

Business Unit Director, Digital Health Services Ossi Laukkanen and his team were in charge of the practical design and implementation of the research setting. In addition to the symptom questionnaire described in the article, the University of Helsinki research team provided Mehiläinen with an analysis of the chat interaction between the physician and the patient as well as a feedback questionnaire for the Digital Clinic physicians to support the development of Digital Clinic. Whenever new results were available, they were reviewed by the Digital Clinic team under the supervision of the University of Helsinki researchers.

Study in a nutshell: Perceptions of Doctors’ Empathy and Patients’ Subjective Health Status at an Online Clinic

Medical doctors’ empathy is known to support patients’ health status after face-to-face clinical visits. However, the role of doctors’ empathy in chat-based encounters is not yet well understood. This study investigates whether patients’ evaluations of doctors’ empathy are associated with their health perceptions after a meeting at an online clinic and whether experiences of empathy could be enhanced by augmenting an automated anamnesis questionnaire completed before the visit.

A total of 209 adult patients agreed to participate in the study. First 103 patients filled out the regular version of the questionnaire (June–August 2019) and then 106 filled out the augmented version of the online anamnesis questionnaire (August–November 2019). Patients’ perceptions of doctors’ empathy were measured with the Consultation and Relational Empathy questionnaire. Patients’ self-perceived health status, potential confounders, and demographic background information were measured via questionnaires.

Patients’ perceptions of doctors’ empathy during a chat-based encounter were associated with patients being less concerned about their symptoms and considering their symptoms as less severe, as well as a higher probability of alleviation of symptoms as rated by the patients. Augmenting the anamnesis questionnaire did not affect patient reports on doctors’ overall empathy, but it did have positive effects on specific areas of doctors’ empathy covered by the questionnaire.

These results show that patients’ experience of doctors’ empathy not only is important during face-to-face encounters but also supports patients’ perceptions of health when the interaction is text based. The results also encourage further development of means to support patients’ experiences of empathy during online interaction with medical doctors.


Perceptions of Doctors’ Empathy and Patients’ Subjective Health Status at an Online Clinic: Development of an Empathic Anamnesis Questionnaire
Martikainen, Silja PhD; Falcon, Mari MA; Wikström, Valtteri MA; Peltola, Soili PhD; Saarikivi, Katri MA
Psychosomatic Medicine: May 2022 - Volume 84 - Issue 4 - p 513-521.

Link to the article: Perceptions of Doctors’ Empathy and Patients’ Subjective Health Status at an Online Clinic: Development of an Empathic Anamnesis Questionnaire ​​​​

Published 3.6.2022