Compassion in healthcare: an updated scoping review of the literature

BMC Palliat Care. 2022 May 18;21(1):80. doi: 10.1186/s12904-022-00942-3.


Background: A previous review on compassion in healthcare (1988-2014) identified several empirical studies and their limitations. Given the large influx and the disparate nature of the topic within the healthcare literature over the past 5 years, the objective of this study was to provide an update to our original scoping review to provide a current and comprehensive map of the literature to guide future research and to identify gaps and limitations that remain unaddressed.

Methods: Eight electronic databases along with the grey literature were searched to identify empirical studies published between 2015 and 2020. Of focus were studies that aimed to explore compassion within the clinical setting, or interventions or educational programs for improving compassion, sampling clinicians and/or patient populations. Following title and abstract review, two reviewers independently screened full-text articles, and performed data extraction. Utilizing a narrative synthesis approach, data were mapped onto the categories, themes, and subthemes that were identified in the original review. Newly identified categories were discussed among the team until consensus was achieved.

Results: Of the 14,166 number of records identified, 5263 remained after removal of duplicates, and 50 articles were included in the final review. Studies were predominantly conducted in the UK and were qualitative in design. In contrast to the original review, a larger number of studies sampled solely patients (n = 12), and the remainder focused on clinicians (n = 27) or a mix of clinicians and other (e.g. patients and/or family members) (n = 11). Forty-six studies explored perspectives on the nature of compassion or compassionate behaviours, traversing six themes: nature of compassion, development of compassion, interpersonal factors related to compassion, action and practical compassion, barriers and enablers of compassion, and outcomes of compassion. Four studies reported on the category of educational or clinical interventions, a notable decrease compared to the 10 studies identified in the original review.

Conclusions: Since the original scoping review on compassion in healthcare, while a greater number of studies incorporated patient perspectives, clinical or educational interventions appeared to be limited. More efficacious and evidence-based interventions or training programs tailored towards improving compassion for patients in healthcare is required.

Keywords: Compassion; Healthcare; Healthcare providers; Intervention; Patients; Scoping review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Empathy*
  • Humans