In 2013 and 2014, the Schwartz Center conducted a series of consumer focus groups to learn how patients think about compassionate care, what language they use, and what aspects of compassionate care are most important to them. The focus groups consisted of men and women of various ages, and all of the groups were racially and economically diverse.

Overall, the term “compassionate healthcare” evoked feelings of warmth, respect, openness and caring. Examples cited by participants included:

  • Knowing your name and something about you
  • Smiling and looking you in the eye
  • Listening to you, not interrupting you, not rushing you, respecting your time, not looking at the computer screen
  • Placing a reassuring hand on your shoulder or touching your arm
  • Asking questions about non-medical issues, like a friend

The elements of compassionate care that patients thought were most important were:

  • Conveying information in a way you can understand
  • Always involving you in decisions about your care
  • Listening attentively to you
  • Treating you as a person, not just a disease
  • Showing respect for you and your family

We also gained insights from the focus group discussions about why patients feel compassion is so important. Many said that compassionate care can help alleviate mental and emotional stress, which they believe can positively affect someone’s health and improve the quality of their lives. Some also said that compassionate care builds the trust necessary for patients to seek medical care and to be honest about their lives and health.

During the focus groups, patients were asked to write down words to describe how they want to feel in a healthcare provider’s office. The words they used most often were comfortable, safe and relaxed. Many also said they want to feel important, heard, not rushed, understood and respected. To graphically depict how patients want to feel, we developed a word cloud that includes the words patients wrote down, with the largest ones being the words that patients used most often.