Compassion: a scoping review of the healthcare literature

Sinclair, S. et al. BMC Palliative Care. 2016 15:6

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Image source: Sam Caplet

Background: Recent concerns about suboptimal patient care and a lack of compassion have prompted policymakers to question the preparedness of clinicians for the challenging environment in which they practice. Compassionate care is expected by patients and is a professional obligation of clinicians; however, little is known about the state of research on clinical compassion. The purpose of this scoping review was to map the literature on compassion in clinical healthcare.

Methods: Searches of eight electronic databases and the grey literature were conducted to identify empirical studies published over the last 25 years. Eligible studies explored perceptions or interventions of compassionate care in clinical populations, healthcare professionals, and healthcare students. Following the title and abstract review, two reviewers independently screened full-texts articles, and extracted study data. A narrative approach to synthesizing and mapping the literature was used.

Results and discussion: Of 36,637 records, 648 studies were retrieved and 44 studies were included in the review. Less than one third of studies included patients. Six themes emerged from studies that explored perceptions of compassionate care: nature of compassion, development of compassion, interpersonal factors related to compassion, action and practical compassion, barriers and enablers of compassion, and outcomes of compassion. Intervention studies included two compassionate care trials with patients and eight educational programs that aimed to improve compassionate care in clinicians and students.

Conclusions: This review identifies the limited empirical understanding of compassion in healthcare, highlighting the lack of patient and family voices in compassion research. A deeper understanding of the key behaviors and attitudes that lead to improved patient-reported outcomes through compassionate care is necessary.

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