Apply the UPL

Principle 4: Demonstrate Empathy for Patients and Caregivers

Patients have unique needs, and no two healthcare journeys are alike. However, almost all patients want to feel that others understand their concerns and experiences... Read More

Patients have unique needs, and no two healthcare journeys are alike. However, almost all patients want to feel that others understand their concerns and experiences. We have a responsibility to understand patients’ needs and to design thoughtful communications that speak to the specifics of their experiences. Our language and design choices must consider how patients and caregivers of different backgrounds might interpret them.

We believe that when we demonstrate empathy for patients and caregivers, we foster an emotional connection that makes our communications more meaningful and relevant.

Tool: UPL Rules

The UPL Rules provide detailed guidance on how each of the Principles can be applied in practice. We think the UPL Rules are the best way to get a good understanding of how to put the UPL into practice.

Below is a sample of rules pertaining to Demonstrate Empathy for Patients and Caregivers:

Rule 23. Remember that words, concepts, and colors can be interpreted differently depending on the socio-cultural background of patients.

  • a. Be mindful of inadvertently using words or phrases that might be off-putting or offensive to different cultural groups.
    • e.g., Avoid using sets of four when designing for those with Chinese or Japanese cultural backgrounds as this can be associated with death to them.
  • b. Patients from different cultural backgrounds may have different expectations around who is involved in medical decision-making. Be sensitive to the possibility of differences and don’t make assumptions.
  • c. Be mindful of how a color’s meaning may vary between different cultural groups.
    • e.g., In some Eastern cultures, red might represent good luck and prosperity, while in the West it can sometimes symbolize polarizing concepts of competition, vigor, and excitement, or aggression, warning, and danger.

Rule 24. Be aware of the holistic patient journey for your target audience and be sensitive to that when developing communications.

  • a. Be mindful of words that may take on different meanings for patients at different points in their journey.
    • e.g., A man undergoing treatment for prostate cancer may associate ‘digital’ with ‘digital rectal exams’ rather than an online resource.
  • b. Be mindful of the reader’s state of mind and adjust your tone accordingly.
    • e.g., Are they recently diagnosed and potentially feeling overwhelmed? Are they hopeful about a potential new treatment? Are they on the path to recovery?

Rule 28. Be mindful of how the human form, gender, ethnicity and race, and appearance are assigned and represented visually.

  • a. Acknowledge age, gender, and ethnic diversity when representing people.
  • b. Be sensitive to representations of the “average” family structure, body physique, patient profile, and other characterizations.
  • c. Include identifiable details and characteristics when they are necessary for supporting the message. Abstract the human figure where gender and ethnicity are not meaningful or significant.

Download the complete set of UPL Rules:

Ready But Limited

This tool still has areas for improvement, and more resources will be added over time.

Tool: UPL Style Guide

The Style Guide offers detailed guidance on how patient materials created with UPL should look and feel. It provides specific guidance on how to demonstrate empathy for patients and caregivers.

Style Guide topic examples related to Demonstrate Empathy for Patients and Caregivers include:


Writing can be one of the clearest ways in which knowledge is shared and empathy is built, but the words and phrases need to be selected and constructed with care.

In this section you will find guidance on writing to communicate with patients as clearly and simply as possible, in a way that validates their experiences and inspires continued learning and education.


Download the complete
UPL Style Guide:

Primed & Polished

This tool has been validated extensively, and significant changes will be infrequent.

Case Study Highlight

Explaining How a Drug Works

This case study illustrates an example that was part of a larger brochure. To establish a warm and empathic tone, we began that brochure with a statement — separate from the explanation of the medical concept itself — that acknowledges how difficult a treatment journey can be for patients.

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