To summarize the scientific evidence that compassion can measurably improve patient outcomes, healthcare quality and safety, and the well-being of healthcare providers, and to consider specific strategies for cultivating compassion and better communicating it to patients.
We selectively review the literature on compassion in health care, including obstacles to its expression and the demonstrated effects of provider compassion on patient outcomes, healthcare quality and cost, and provider well-being. We also review evidence regarding the trainability of compassion, discuss proven methods for cultivating individual compassion, and recommend strategies for incorporating it into routine medical practice.
Compassion is the emotional response to another's pain or suffering, accompanied by a desire to alleviate it. Review of the literature shows that compassionate health care measurably improves physical and psychological patient outcomes, increases patient adherence, improves healthcare quality and safety, increases financial margins, and prevents physician burnout. Psychophysiological research demonstrates that empathy and compassion can be actively cultivated through intentional practice. Validated models of compassion-based interactions can facilitate the consistent expression of compassion in daily medical practice.
Given its many proven benefits to patients, healthcare organizations, and providers, compassion should be cultivated by healthcare providers and systems, and considered an essential component of optimal medical care.