Empathy is key to effective healthcare communication.

The ability to put oneself in another’s shoes, trying to understand what they may be feeling, and acknowledging the significant impact an illness or life event can have on a person’s wellbeing is crucial to building trust and connecting in a meaningful way.

Every day, the VIVA! team partner with communities and stakeholders from a vast array of therapeutic areas, including patients, their families, advocates, healthcare professionals and life sciences companies, each with a unique perspective.

Connecting with these communities, particularly patients, is a vital and rewarding part of our role as a healthcare communicators. Our team is in constant awe of the strength shown by these patients and their families in the face of adversity, and their willingness to share their story to help others.

Unwavering empathy is crucial during these interactions to ensure all members of these communities feel comfortable and supported throughout (and beyond) their involvement in a project.

Similarly, authentically and effectively portraying these stories and messages to the public requires sensitivity, compassion and an in-depth understanding of the Australian healthcare landscape.

Here are VIVA!’s top tips on empathetic communication:

1. Listen, without interrupting

When a person is telling their story, it is important they feel they are being listened to. Enabling them to speak in full without interruption will help them to share their story in a way that is comfortable and natural to them.

2. Use non-verbal communication

When face-to-face, in person or virtually, use eye contact and non-verbal cues, such as nodding, to demonstrate that you are listening. These indicate to the storyteller that are interested in and understanding what they are saying.

3. Be sensitive in the questions you ask, and the responses you give

Framing questions in a way that is sensitive and shows a level of understanding of that person’s experience will help them feel comfortable. Using supportive and compassionate language in your responses, such as “that must have been really difficult” is also important.

4. Look at the situation from the other person’s perspective

Trying to understand how a situation may make another person feel, as opposed to how you think you would feel in that scenario, helps in understanding their point of view. This helps us to place ourselves in their shoes and gain a greater understanding of their experience.

5. Use empowering language

When using verbal or written communication to tell a story, use language that empowers the audience to understand the perspective of those at the centre of the story.

6. Say thank you

It can be a daunting and difficult experience to share your story publicly and it is vital to acknowledge the time, effort and bravery of those who do so. Ensure patients, families, HCPs, or whoever it may be, feel valued by keeping them up to date, making it as easy as possible to be involved and by saying thank you.