Measuring Compassion: Monitoring and Improving the Heart of Healthcare

Dr. Shane Sinclair

April 14, 2022

Measuring What Matters.

Love, compassion, joy, heart-ache – annals line library walls, music from all genres share in these recurrent themes; poetry, movies, sacred  texts- even dinner table discussions revolve around, what most people believe to be, life’s most important expressions. However, a common assumption surrounding these central topics is that they cannot be quantified and attempting to do so, diminishes them of their  value, mystery, and significance.

A standard practice in healthcare, however, is the collection of data and ensuing evidence based practice. Data is the cornerstone of quality improvement. Therefore, if we want to improve something: a program, a treatment, or a system, we need to first measure things. But, how do we know if we are measuring the right things? Often in healthcare we measure things like: number of patient visits; numbers of individuals served; visit type; bed capacity; wait times; and average days of admission. It does not take much to pull these stats from our electronic medical records and to generate a report on health system performance—but what do these metrics say about the quality of care and other factors that patients identify as key central indicators of a  high-performing healthcare system?  

Dr. Don Berwick, a notable health quality expert, actually makes a plea for less measurement. This assertion may run counterintuitive if you are a proponent of health quality, however it is not that he is opposed to measurement, rather he believes that it is “unwise and irresponsible” to waste health care provider’s time to measure things and to generate data that is  under-utilized or does not lead to real change[1]. A recent report by the Beryl Institute[2], a leading  institute in measuring and advancing the patient experience, suggests that compassion — the way in which care is given, and not simply the treatments or services provided to patients - lies at the heart of quality healthcare. It is argued that these subjective and experiential components of the patient experience are actually vital indicators of healthcare quality — factors that need to be measured and integrated into our healthcare system score cards, dashboards, and quality improvement reports.  

Recently, healthcare researchers and organizations have begun to recognize that compassion is a quintessential marker of quality care — a domain of quality care that can no longer be ignored or dismissed to the realm of ‘touch-feely’. So it begs the question, if compassion is so fundamental  to the delivery of health care services and to transforming the system, should we not be measuring compassion alongside other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)? Based on the logic provided above and recent research on the topic—we believe we should.  

The Compassion Research Lab, in  a recent systematic review of compassion measures, discovered that there was no single tool that measured compassion in a comprehensive or methodologically rigorous fashion. This is not to suggest that in team huddles, staff meetings and strategic sessions there are not discussions about how to ensure compassion is embedded in our patient care,  our programs and the organizational culture — rather we had no reliable and standardized means to  do so — until now.

The Sinclair Compassion Questionnaire (SCQ) addresses this issue and provides researchers, healthcare providers, teams, and organizations with the ‘gold standard’ patient reported compassion measure. The SCQ is the combination of science and sensibility — developed with the most rigorous science and the sensibility of patients and healthcare providers perspectives directly.

[1] The Art and Science of Measurement in Healthcare

[2] The Beryl Institute Consumer Study on Patient Experience

SCQ Video Tutorials: The Sinclair Compassion Questionnaire

01. Blog post