Developing compassionate health care

Our new journal, the Journal of Compassionate Health Care launched today. In a Q+A, we asked the Editors-in-Chief, Sue Shea and Christos Lionis, to tell us more about the field and what they hope to achieve with the journal.


Sue Shea
Sue Shea
Christos Lionis
Christos Lionis

What is compassionate health care and how has it developed?

Compassionate health care is a rapidly growing field which has come to the forefront following concerns that despite the increasing scope and sophistication of health care, it sometimes fails at a fundamental level.   Although there are many reported gaps in the humanity of health care, there is general agreement that care, compassion, and basic care delivery should form an important aspect of health care globally.

In addition, there is evidence to suggest that the component parts of compassion such as kindness, empathy, attention to basic needs, and attention to dignity, are crucial in alleviating pain, prompting fast recovery from acute illness, assisting in the management of chronic illness, and relieving anxiety.

In order to understand compassion, what enhances it and what prevents it from taking place, it is important to look at a whole range of concepts within the health care setting. In 2011, we organized a successful symposium on the topic of compassion in health care at the University of Greenwich, UK, bringing together key people from various backgrounds with an interest in moving forward with the science and art of compassion.

From this symposium, it was clear that people are united in the importance of developing compassionate health care settings, through a multidisciplinary approach, and that the focus on research in this field is rapidly developing.

What are the challenges in this field of research?

doctor and patientCompassionate health care represents a challenge because it is a developing field and the concept is quite vast.  For compassionate health care to succeed however, it is important to consider the health care setting as a whole, including organizational factors. As such, a focus on organisational issues, team work, and health care professional self care and understanding are also important factors to consider within this field of research.

Within the health care setting, everyone involved has an important role to play, including administrative personnel, auxiliary staff, and those involved at a managerial level.

Why do you think it’s important to have a journal to cover compassionate health care?

At the present time, there is much work being conducted within the field of compassionate health care, but no central place for this work to be located. We consider that it’s important to have a journal specific to compassionate health care to enable contributions to be invited (at an international level) on all aspects related to the subject.

The journal aims to promote research, discussion and the sharing of experiences with the ultimate goal to improve clinical effectiveness and quality of health care. Contributions may take the form of editorials, reviews, and original research papers relating to: historical perspectives; underlying theoretical approaches; neurological/biological mechanisms thought to be in existence with regard to the provision and receipt of compassion; implementation and evidence-based provision of compassion; compassion fatigue and burnout; teaching and assessing compassion; development and evaluation of tools for measuring compassion; assessing the effectiveness of compassionate care interventions; organisational/managerial issues; and methods for sustaining compassion in the longer term.

What influenced your decision for the journal to be open access?

Our initial research showed that authors prefer an open access approach so that their work can be viewed by all with an interest in the field.  Also, as the topic is of such importance, we wished for work in this area to reach as wide an audience as possible.

What are you hoping to achieve with the journal and how do you see it developing?

Our research indicates that a journal specific to the topic of compassionate care would be a very valuable addition to this rapidly expanding field. The journal adopts a multidisciplinary approach, presenting a linkage between medicine and social science, thus bringing together a number of concepts and approaches to the field of compassion, within one specific journal.

We hope that our readers will gain much from this journal, as a vehicle for sharing research, and as a learning tool or food for thought to incorporate in every day practice. We feel that the concept of delivering compassionate health care is important in any situation, from treating a minor cold, to developing palliative and end of life care, and in terms of taking care of front line staff and others involved within the health care setting.

We also anticipate the journal being a useful teaching aid for present and future courses in compassionate care, and for undergraduate and postgraduate students in nursing, medicine, and allied health professions.

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