Compassion and Love in Healthcare


A sick patient is at his most vulnerable when he presents to a healthcare facility with an ailment. Patient and families are suffering from the impact of the disease. They are often in a strange environment where people are using strange vocabulary, wearing strange uniforms and surrounded by strange sounds and smells.

This post argues that one of the most comforting, humane and soothing actions a healthcare professional can perform is to interact with the patient with sincere patience, heartfelt compassion and devoted love. Being a healthcare professional is a privilege, not a job. That privilege directly affects patient welfare.

Is compassion a dirty word in a world of profit maximizing entrepreneurship?

Compassion is a time consuming heart-to-heart contact between the healthcare professional and the patient. This seems antithetical to a fundamental goal of most healthcare institutions – profit maximization. Doctors are often driven to bring revenues to meet expenses. Even the so called non-profit institutions are profit maximizing with the profits reinvested in the corporation and are written off as corporate costs. So the activity of engaging in a time-consuming activity that, in the face of it, does not seem to directly grant revenue, appears to be a waste of time.

This view is erroneous. Compassionate delivery of healthcare increases profits and improves patient and population health. In an article in Forbes Lloyd Dean President and CEO of Dignity Health (Dignity Health will appear in a later blog post here) has been quoted as saying, “Compassion and kindness aren’t expensive, but the yield is priceless.”

Role of Compassion

When a patient is sick enough to present to a doctor, she needs a hefty dose of understanding, love and compassion along with disease treatment. The compassion directly makes the encounter with the physician meaningful  to the patient. It calms and nurtures the patient’s body into dealing with the illness. The healing is better as a result.

All I ever wanted was to reach out and touch another human being
not just with my hands but with my heart.

― Tahereh Mafi

Theologian Henri Nouwen, in his book The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society, writes: “How many leave hospitals healed of their physical illness but hurt in their feelings by the impersonal treatment they received; how many return from their consultations with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers or counsellors, increasingly irritated by the non-committal attitude and professional distance they encounter?”

Evidence for Compassion

At the Stanford University School of Medicine a program was started by the Centre for Compassion, Altruism, Research and Education in 2008 to teach faculty, staff and medical students the science of compassion and the practice of that art in medicine. The course is conducted in collaboration with a Tibetan scholar and senior researchers at Stanford. They have done this because research has repeatedly shown that healthcare without “care” is impotent in fostering patient health.

In her paper in Int J Health Policy Manag. 2014 May; 2(4): 199–200, Beth Lown argues why compassion is central to the practice of medicine anywhere in the woCompassionrld. But she warns that the practice of compassion is  facilitated if its importance is recognized and implemented at all levels starting from administration to caregivers to maintenance staff in an institution.

In our model, compassion will be a “yes” or “no” variable obtained from patient surveys following the conclusion of their visit to an institution or physician.

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