There’s often a missing link in online health content, one that reminds readers that there are real humans who care on the other side of their screen. That link — empathy — goes a long way in making users feel better and less alone in their moment of need.
Last year, in a study commissioned by Verywell, research firm KR&I identified “empathy” as one of four clear-cut factors (along with ease, relevance, and credibility) that led to a positive online health experience. This year, Verywell conducted an online survey of 2,065 adults with a chronic health condition to learn more about users’ perception and need for this trait.
Why Users Seek Empathy
Survey responses revealed that users consider health websites the second most trusted source of information, just behind HCPs. We know that pleasant bedside manner is expected during an in-person visit. Audiences seek the equivalent online — but most don’t feel like they receive it. Forty-one percent said that health sites often feel impersonal, lacking personality and human character. There’s much left to be desired when it comes to receiving human emotion or warmth.
The need for a human touch makes sense because users go into their search as humans — laced with emotions. Fifty-two percent feel negative when searching for health information online. They’re anxious, depressed, scared, and sometimes angry.
A sense of urgency often accompanies these emotions. More than half the time, users conduct an online health search when they’re symptomatic or think they’re sick but don’t know for sure. Most conduct their search within a few hours, and six in ten feel that they need information soon or right in the moment. Depending on their specific condition, this sense of urgency and users’ emotional state can be exacerbated. Pregnant women and people with multiple sclerosis and breast cancer in particular said that they experience higher levels of urgency and negative emotions when searching.
Understanding this emotional and often anxious mindset helps us see why it’s so helpful to include a human touch alongside credible information.
The Impact of Empathetic Content
Empathy goes a long way in addressing the emotions and urgency users feel and in helping them feel better — less stressed, thinking rationally, and feeling more empowered.
The survey revealed that when users feel better, they’re more likely to take a positive health action — 39 percent scheduled an appointment with a healthcare professional, 49 percent bought a medication or tried a recommended treatment, and 38 percent talked to another person about what they learned. Forty-six percent of users took these actions that same day, and another 30 percent within a couple of days, directly working to positively influence their own outcome.
Investing in Empathy
As health brands, we have one important purpose: help readers in their moment of need. We understand that online health information can be impersonal, overwhelming, and scary — but it doesn’t have to be! Outside the screen, we’d offer our friends empathy during a difficult or confusing situation. Verywell recognizes that we can do the same for our readers online.
How? First, do what you can to understand the user. At Verywell, we invest in research that delves into users’ needs, challenges, and mindsets so that we can approach everything through their lens and show that we understand. This allows us to better acknowledge and address them — two important factors for giving empathy. We also invest in credible writers who genuinely care. They’re skilled at infusing content with true bedside manner.
Second, content tone and voice are key. Verywell writers are knowledgeable, trustworthy, and authoritative, but never lofty. They’re partners in users’ healthcare. They provide proper perspective — for example, an online search for something like “headache remedies” doesn’t mean you need a trip to the emergency room or something worse — and share easy-to-understand information and advice so readers can leave our site feeling better than when they came in.
Stay in Touch
To learn more about how Verywell connects with their users, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read “Relevance: One Key to Connecting With Health Audiences” here, and look out for our next post to learn about additional factors that connect health brands with their audiences.
The Verywell family of brands, including Verywell Health, Verywell Fit, Verywell Family, and Verywell Mind, take a human approach to health and wellness content and are a welcome alternative to hyper-clinical health sites. More than 35 million people use Verywell sites each month to feel better and be healthier. Verywell is part of the Dotdash family of brands.