Compassion Cements Patient-Care Team Relationships, Empowering Stakeholders’ Voices for More Fulfilling Care

Shadowing and asking “What Matters to You?” are two powerful co-design tools used to improve patient care, efficiency, and teamwork. Shadowing consists of objective observations to better understand processes, and asking “What Matters to You?” allows for patients to have a voice in their care. Combining these co-design tools creates a compassionate environment and enhances patient-care team relationships. Compassionate and inclusive, bi-directional communication lies at the heart of the Patient Centered Value System (PCVS). Asking and listening to  know the emotional experiences and thoughts of patients is a critical piece to understand how to define and measure clinical outcomes and to improve experiences. Interestingly, compassion and empathy are two skills that are not normally taught nor recognized as critical in health professions education or practice despite the fact that they are vital in the care delivery process.

Stephen Trzeciak, a physician in intensive care medicine and compassion expert, in his TEDTalk “How 40 Seconds of Compassion Could Save a Life,” describes what he calls a “compassion crisis” in the healthcare field. Trzeciak recounts the story of a bus crash that occurred in Sweden in 2007 and a research study that was conducted five years after the crash. All 56 of the survivors of the crash were interviewed and asked the question “What do you remember?.” Two common themes ran throughout almost all of the responses: the physical pain during impact and the lack of compassion from care providers in the hospitals. 

To be compassionate is to have both an emotional response to another’s pain while also having an authentic desire to help. Trzeciak feels that provider burnout and the increasingly electronic nature of healthcare could be contributing to the “compassion crisis” because doctors are “spending more time looking into a computer screen than a patient’s eyes.”

This raises the question, “Does lack of compassion and depersonalization of the patient-care team relationship really affect the overall care experience that much?” To this question backed up his own research that used a systematic review of scientific abstracts and research studies, Trzeciak, would argue “yes.” Trzeciak found that compassion not only increased provider vigilance, leading to fewer errors, but also had a psychological impact on patients. Peer-reviewed studies validate Trzeciak’s claims, for example a study of diabetes patients revealed that high levels of compassion from providers had neuro endocrine effects on patients, resulting in a 80% higher odds of optimal blood control in these patients.

Given this evidence, it is clear that the human aspect of patient-care team interactions has a profound effect on the patient experience and health outcomes, but in some cases this relationship is being completely lost. However, Trzeciak says that there are simple ways that we can combat this. A provider telling a patient “I want you to feel comfortable stopping me to ask questions” or “I want to emphasize that we are in this together” can change the trajectory of a patient’s experience. Stress and anxiety, both of which can have distressing emotional and physical manifestations on an individual's wellbeing, can be eased by the simple intervention of “40 seconds of compassion” that it takes for a provider to emphasize with a patient. 

Asking open ended questions such as “What Matters to You?”, “What’s going well?”, “What could be improved and how?”, engage the care team, patients and families to align resources to address the goals of the patient as well as build stronger relationships in your organization. Creating a culture that supports care team and patient inclusion in decision-making leads to a sense of belonging, increases compassion, and reduces burnout. Staff members who feel they are physically and emotionally taken care of in the workplace are more motivated to connect and build relationships with their patients and to act with their wishes in mind. Learn more about how to partner with our team and to access free resources and toolkits by visiting


Moudatsou, Maria et al. “The Role of Empathy in Health and Social Care Professionals.” Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 8,1 26. 30 Jan. 2020, doi:10.3390/healthcare8010026

Trzeciak, Stephen. "How 40 Seconds of Compassion Could Save a Life." TED, February 2022,

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February 11, 2022