Empathic communication sequences in online medical consultations

A case study from China


  • Yu Zhang Beijing Information Science and Technology University




China, clinical empathic communication, interactional sequence, online medical consultation (OMC), theme-oriented discourse analysis


Empathy is believed to play a key function in clinical consultations. As online medical consultation (OMC) has become increasingly popular in the past decade, studies addressing empathic communication in the OMC context have started to attract research interest. However, previous studies have mainly addressed empathic communicative acts by online doctors. There is still a research gap as regards exploring online empathic communication from both doctors’ and patients’ perspectives, particularly in the context of China where there is a promising growth in OMC activities. The present study examines 150 text-based OMC cases that involve empathic interaction between doctors and patients/caregivers in the Chinese context. Adopting a theme-oriented discourse analysis approach, the paper aims to identify empathic communication sequences. Four types of sequence organization are identified, and these are discussed with relevant examples. The findings illustrate that OMC communication involves dynamic empathic sequential patterns, which can be optimally drawn upon by health professionals and medical students to practise their empathic communication skills.

Author Biography

Yu Zhang, Beijing Information Science and Technology University

Yu ZHANG (张宇) received her PhD degree from Hong Kong Baptist University and currently holds a teaching position at Beijing Information Science and Technology University, Beijing. Her major research interest is discourse studies in the context of health communication and medical humanities. Her work related to online health communication has been published in Health Communication, Discourse & Communication, Chinese Journal of Communication and Communication & Medicine, and another journal article related to online medical consultations will be published in Pragmatics and Society.


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How to Cite

Zhang, Y. (2021). Empathic communication sequences in online medical consultations: A case study from China. Communication and Medicine, 17(1), 64–75. https://doi.org/10.1558/cam.19694