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Keywords:

  • care;
  • compassion;
  • organisational design;
  • position paper;
  • review

Aims and objectives

To investigate the tension between individual and organisational responses to contemporary demands for compassionate interactions in health care.

Background

Health care is often said to need more compassion among its practitioners. However, this represents a rather simplistic view of the issue, situating the problem with individual practitioners rather than focusing on the overall design of care and healthcare organisations, which have often adopted a production-line approach.

Design

This is a position paper informed by a narrative literature review.

Methods

A search of the PubMed, Science Direct and CINAHL databases for the terms compassion, care and design was conducted in the research literature published from 2000 through to mid-2013.

Results

There is a relatively large literature on compassion in health care, where authors discuss the value of imbuing a variety of aspects of health services with compassion including nurses, other practitioners and, ultimately, among patients. This contrasts with the rather limited attention that compassionate practice has received in healthcare curricula and the lack of attention to how compassion is informed by organisational structures and processes. We discuss how making the clinic more welcoming for patients and promoting bidirectional compassion and compassion formation in nursing education can be part of an overall approach to the design of compassionate care.

Conclusions

We discuss a number of ways in which compassion can be enhanced through training, educational and organisational design, through exploiting the potential of brief opportunities for communication and through initiatives involving patients and service users, as well as practitioners and service leaders.

Relevance to clinical practice

The development of contemporary healthcare systems could usefully address the overall design of compassionate care rather than blame individual practitioners for a lack of compassion.