Is Compassion Essential for Quality Health Care?

19 September, 2020

Extracts below and a comment from me. Full text here:


'The World Health Organization is actively exploring the role of compassion in quality health care. This Global Health Compassion Rounds (GHCR) highlighted the compelling evidence around compassion and quality care—not only for patients, but also for providers and health care organizations. Respondents offered their views of the implications of this evidence at national, district, and community levels of care...'

Shams Syed, Quality Team Lead, World Health Organization: We believe there is a need for a fundamental shift in how services are delivered across the world to place compassion at the heart of health service reform. Each element of health service quality—effectiveness, safety, people-centeredness—has important linkages to compassion. Other elements, such as timeliness, equity, integration, and efficiency, also have very strong linkages to compassion.

Dr. Stephen Trzeciak, Chair, Cooper University Health Care; Professor & Chief of Medicine, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University: The number one determinant of clinical outcomes is clinical excellence. If you are surgeon who botches a procedure or if you're a physician who prescribes the wrong medication, there is no amount of compassion that is going to undo that...

there is an abundance of evidence that supports that compassion has powerful benefits for patients, patient care, and for those who care for patients, because a human connection confers distinct and powerful benefits...

With 1,000 scientific abstracts and 280 original science research papers behind me, I conclude that compassion matters for health, for health care, and for providers. I believe that compassion is evidence-based medicine. I call it

"compassionomics" because I view it as the convergence of the science and the art of medicine. And the science is strong.

Dr. Andrew Likaka, Director of Quality Management & Digital Health, Malawi, Ministry of Health and Population: National level guidelines are not clear about the role of compassionate care. How do we reinforce the role of compassionate care in practice?

Dr. Louis Ako-Egbe, Bangem District Health Manager, Southwest Region, Cameroon: So at the district level, how can we make compassion a reality? First, by the district/county management demonstrating compassion... we need a health system with a conscience. Everyone needs a health system that thinks about them and treats them beyond the technical work that they do.

Samia Abdulle, Community Engagement Consultant, Clarkston, Georgia, USA: It's amazing when you look at a human being as someone with gifts, talents, and life experiences in a vulnerable space. And that vulnerability is there to bring you closer and also to give you something as a provider. From a community space, I'd like to bring in this South African disabilities chant: "Nothing about us without us is for us."

Dr. Stephen Trzeciak: To Louis' comments about leadership, there are a number of studies that show when there are compassion practices in a health care environment—such as recognizing people when they are going through difficult times, recognizing people for their compassion, and celebrating people who have exceptional compassion—the patients' experience gets better. So having compassion in leadership to treat front line health care workers is vitally important.

The recording of the webinar is available here:


Comment: Dr Likaka's comment 'National level guidelines are not clear about the role of compassionate care'. Is anyone aware of a WHO guideline that addresses this subject?

Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: