What makes for a compassionate patient-caregiver relationship?

Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2006 May;32(5):283-92. doi: 10.1016/s1553-7250(06)32037-5.


Background: During Summer 2005, the Kenneth B. Schwartz Center asked hospitals to hold rounds to discuss the topic, "What Makes for a Compassionate Patient-Caregiver Relationship?" Review of questionnaires and transcripts of the rounds held at 54 hospitals in 21 states yielded three major categories: communication, common ground, and respect for individuality.

Communication: Suggestions to improve compassionate care often focused on style and content. Rounds attendees felt that compassionate care also depends on imparting medical facts in a clear and useful manner to patients--often difficult for complex medical issues.

Common ground: Compassionate care depends on showing empathy for a patient's illness experience no matter what his or her background. Rounds participants felt that caregivers could make a conscious choice to care deeply for patients. Sharing personal information with patients and admitting mistakes were key methods for identifying common ground.

Treating the patient as an individual: Compassionate care requires striking an individualized balance between providing guidance and allowing autonomy to achieve shared consensus, especially with complex information.

A prescription for change: Most interventions target students yet do not continually reinforce compassion. Advocates for compassionate care should instead treat lack of compassion not as an acute trauma but as a chronic condition requiring a lifetime of continuous support, regular guidance, repeated reinforcement, specific targeted outcomes, and more innovative care programs.

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States