Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Showing Empathy to Reduce Patient Anxiety


Smiling, communicating calmly, and avoiding medical jargon can help patients feel more comfortable and relaxed.   

Day in and day out, I meet patients feeling anxious and nervous. It’s a feeling some swallow until they sense a small window of empathy from their clinician that makes them feel heard and seen. It’s not uncommon to hear patients comment on their bad experiences with previous doctors. This has made me think a lot about how to show empathy. Here’s what I’ve found works well for me:  


1. Smile.

A simple and welcoming “How are you today?” will help patients feel more comfortable, relaxed, and perhaps less anxious.  


2. Communicate calmly.

Explaining what we’re going to do and talk about during the clinic visit reduces fear. Disease is scary. We need to calmly share our knowledge.  


3. Drop the medical jargon. 

Technical terms create confusion and unnecessary anxiety for patients. Talk about their health issues in simple terms and regularly ask, “Does what I’m saying make sense to you?”  


I try to make sure all my patients leave our time together feeling calm and free of doubts and anxiety. Patients sometimes come to us feeling uncertain and even afraid. The goal is for them to leave us with calmness. Expressing empathy will make the world a better place for our patients. 





This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.