Compassion Corner: Myths Surrounding Compassionate Care During the Pandemic

Compassion [kuhmpash-uhn] noun
A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

Compassion Corner is a weekly series from Patient Worthy that will focus on the subject of compassion in the healthcare and rare disease space. In this series, we explore the role of compassion in this field and what it means for caregivers, patients, and others.



The CDC recently published guidelines for healthcare professionals to help with fatigue, being over-worked, and burnout resulting from providing an abundance of compassionate care. The article was sponsored by the Rush University Series at the Podcast by KevinMD with the goal of helping to cope with stresses caused by working with COVID-19 patients.

Katherine Buaron, MSN-RN and Rush UniversityCommunity Nurse Consultant, reminds us that the worldwide pandemic has been with us for over a year. Healthcare workers are at a point where they not only have to care for COVID-19 patients but ‘turn their stethoscope inward’ and start caring for themselves.

Nurse Buaron uses this article as a means to dispel some of the myths surrounding the pandemic. She uses the term the “softer side” that centers on people who need help and results in improved clinical outcomes.

Rapport Building

According to Nurse Buaron, it is a myth that rapport building between the patient and the clinician is time-consuming. It is agreed that the pressure of administrative duties paired with pressing COVID-19 complications may sometimes be communicated to the patient.

However, a Johns Hopkins study showed that a clinician’s compassion, sufficient to reduce a patient’s anxiety, can easily be conveyed in forty seconds.

A second myth involves the perception that “soft skills” do not result in positive clinical outcomes. On the contrary, there are several studies that show significant, positive results using “soft skills”.

One of the studies was conducted at Harvard and showed that IBS patients had significant symptom relief when they were treated with empathy. A study conducted at Michigan’s University found patients’ pain eased when they engaged in light conversation with their doctor. In addition, patients’ immune systems appeared to improve. Three hundred and fifty patients with common colds were involved in a study published in Family Medicine. The patients treated with compassion showed a milder form of illness.

Consultation Models Can Help Guide Patient Interviews

Clinicians who want to improve their empathy towards their patients have many resources. Motivational interviewing strategies are readily available to help the patient feel that the clinician is listening and understands.

The more time that the healthcare professional spends in learning these skills the more they realize it is worth the investment.

Compassion and Soft Skills

Soft skills mimic compassion in many ways. The myth about both is that they do not evolve into positive outcomes. Avril Danczak M.D., an educator in the United Kingdom, commented that when a solid rapport has been established in a long-term relationship between doctor and patient many treatment opportunities will arise.

A study involving 891 patients who were treated with care and compassion resulted in fifty-nine percent improved performance and adherence to their medication. These results prove that a positive clinical outcome is definitely associated with physician compassion.

The Schwartz Center conducted a survey of eight hundred patients, and only fifty-four percent said they experienced compassionate care during their hospital stay.

In vast contrast when clinicians were surveyed, seventy-eight percent perceived that they provided compassionate care to patients. These and other surveys led to physician and patient communication now being taught in medical schools throughout the country.

One last comment. A myth about compassionate care is that it is only beneficial to the patient. Harvard professor Dr. Helen Riess, attributes physician burnout to “depersonalization.” Patients are viewed as numbers or identified by their diagnosis. But several studies link empathy by a clinician to an improved level of patient satisfaction. In this scenario, compassionate care can be protective. It can prevent burnout.

Rose Duesterwald

Rose Duesterwald

Rose became acquainted with Patient Worthy after her husband was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) six years ago. During this period of partial remission, Rose researched investigational drugs to be prepared in the event of a relapse. Her husband died February 12, 2021 with a rare and unexplained occurrence of liver cancer possibly unrelated to AML.

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