Skip to main content

CMSRU researchers develop a method for measuring compassion in health care

Caregiver compassion is a vital element of health care quality. Studies have shown that compassion from caregivers – as perceived by patients – can lead to improved outcomes for patients, lower health care costs, and even reduced burnout among health care providers. As researchers examine the effect of compassion on these outcomes, a key question that emerges is “how do we measure compassion?” Specifically, can caregiver compassion be measured on a large scale basis across entire health care systems?

A team of researchers at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) and Cooper University Health Care, led by physician scientist Brian W. Roberts, MD, MSc, associate professor of emergency medicine, developed and validated a tool for measuring caregiver compassion from the patient perspective that can be used in conjunction with the Clinician and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CG-CAHPS) survey, a method for measuring patient satisfaction in an outpatient clinic setting that is already in wide use across the United States.  

The research was published on May 17, 2019, in the journal JAMA Network Open, published by the American Medical Association.

In this study of 6,493 adult patients who were treated in outpatient clinics, Roberts and colleagues found that a simple five-item tool was a valid and reliable way to measure patient assessment of caregiver compassion. Further, by incorporating the tool into an existing platform for measuring patient experience (i.e., the CG-CAHPS survey), patient assessment of caregiver compassion can be measured on a large scale.

The tool, called the “five-item compassion measure”, assessed – from the patient perspective – how well health care providers did the following:

  • Cared about patients’ emotional and psychological well-being.
  • Were interested in patients as a whole person.
  • Were considerate of patients’ personal needs.
  • Were able to gain patients’ trust.
  • Showed patients care and compassion.   

“As we further study the effects of compassion on patients and patient care, it is important for the medical community to have validated methods of measurement in what was once thought to be a ‘soft’ science,” said Dr. Roberts.

According to the paper’s co-author, Stephen W. Trzeciak, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and chair of the department of medicine: “Compassion has always been a vital aspect of the ‘art of medicine,’ but with more and more research showing that compassion also has measurable beneficial effects belonging in the science of medicine, we needed to develop a standardized way of measuring compassion in practice.”  Dr. Trzeciak is also co-author of the new book, Compassionomics:  The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference.

According to the research team, this study is a first step. Additional testing of the five-item compassion measure among varying cohorts of patients is needed to validate wide use of this tool in health care organizations.

Click HERE to review the study.