Routine, empathic and compassionate patient care: definitions, development, obstacles, education and beneficiaries

J Eval Clin Pract. 2014 Dec;20(6):872-80. doi: 10.1111/jep.12243. Epub 2014 Sep 29.


Rationale: We believe that this study represents an innovative approach to clarifying the definitions of routine, empathic and compassionate health care, as well as of sympathy. We emphasize the importance of affective empathy and its intensification in the context of patient suffering (compassion), without abandoning the ideal of clinical equanimity.

Methods: We develop a pedagogical model for clinicians and trainees who are weaker in their empathic skills that includes four levels of growth. We clarify representative obstacles to empathic and compassionate care in education and clinical practice. We summarize the four beneficiaries of empathic and compassionate care (clinicians, patients, trainees, institutions). We suggest areas for future research, including the development of a compassion scale and conclude with a statement on how the conceptual and professional confusion we address adversely impacts patients and trainees. The article represents the consensus work of a group of health care professionals and students at Stony Brook University Hospital and School of Medicine who have been engaged in this project for several years through the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics, established in August of 2008.

Conclusions: We discern a shift away from concepts of clinical empathy and compassionate care that deny a significant place for an affective component and that idealize 'detachment'.

Keywords: beneficiaries; compassionate care; developmental levels; empathy; obstacles; professionalism; sympathy; teaching.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Beneficence*
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physician's Role
  • Physician-Patient Relations / ethics*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / ethics
  • Quality of Health Care*