Conveying empathy to hospice family caregivers: Team responses to caregiver empathic communication

Elaine Wittenberg-Lyles, Parker Oliver Debra, George Demiris, Anna Rankin, Sara Shaunfield, Robin L. Kruse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Objective: The goal of this study was to explore empathic communication opportunities presented by family caregivers and responses from interdisciplinary hospice team members. Methods: Empathic opportunities and hospice team responses were analyzed from bi-weekly web-based videoconferences between family caregivers and hospice teams. The authors coded the data using the Empathic Communication Coding System (ECCS) and identified themes within and among the coded data. Results: Data analysis identified 270 empathic opportunity-team response sequences. Caregivers expressed statements of emotion and decline most frequently. Two-thirds of the hospice team responses were implicit acknowledgments of caregiver statements and only one-third of the team responses were explicit recognitions of caregiver empathic opportunities. Conclusion: Although hospice team members frequently express emotional concerns with family caregivers during one-on-one visits, there is a need for more empathic communication during team meetings that involve caregivers. Practice implications: Hospice clinicians should devote more time to discussing emotional issues with patients and their families to enhance patient-centered hospice care. Further consideration should be given to training clinicians to empathize with patients and family caregivers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-37
Number of pages7
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • Empathy
  • Family caregiver
  • Hospice


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