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Nursing researcher measures the components of compassion

With patient input, Shane Sinclair develops a tool to benchmark delivery of compassionate care
August 17, 2016
Shane Sinclair, assistant professor in the University of Calgary's Faculty of Nursing, has received a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Project Scheme award to continue his research on improving the delivery of compassionate care in hospitals and  health-care facilities. File photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Shane Sinclair, assistant professor in the University of Calgary's Faculty of Nursing, has received a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Project Scheme award to continue his research on improving the delivery of compassionate care in hospitals and  health-care facilities. File photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary 

Compassion. It’s something health-care providers strive to give and patients hope to receive but, from their perspective, don’t always get. To close the gap, Shane Sinclair, assistant professor and Research Professor in Cancer Care at the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary, is leading the first study of its kind to measure patients’ experiences of compassionate care.

“There are no valid and reliable compassionate care measures available currently. If we can’t measure it, it is difficult to begin to address it,” Sinclair says.

An essential ingredient of quality health care, compassionate care is increasingly becoming a focal point for patients, family members, health-care providers, decision-makers and researchers. It is an area of study being championed by Sinclair’s faculty. Despite evidence that speaks directly to positive impacts that compassionate care has on patient experience and outcomes, Sinclair explains that the main driver for this study is that compassion is reportedly fading from hospitals and health-care training programs.

Compassion eroding from patient experience

“Health-care providers want to deliver compassionate care but what we have found is that compassion is eroding from the patient’s experience at the beside,” Sinclair says. “There could be a lot of things responsible for this disconnect, like a lack of time or system constraints.”

With direct input from patients, Sinclair will use the results of the study to develop a compassionate care measurement model that can be integrated into health-care education, training, practice  and policy. The goal is to come up with a tool that is scientifically rigorous, patient-informed, and clinically relevant.

The study follows on a previous study by Sinclair and his team conducted with 53 cancer patients at the end-of-life, which generated the first evidenced-based model and definition of compassion from patients themselves.

A major barrier to the development, evaluation and improvement of compassionate care is the lack of a tool to measure patients’ experiences of such care in their health-care interactions. A tool to measure patients’ experiences of compassionate care will provide the means to study, assess, evaluate and improve this vital aspect of quality health care.

Building on his previous research on compassionate care in a palliative setting, Sinclair and co-researchers will look at four different care settings: acute, home care, residential and hospice. Data will be collected from Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

Sampling a 'broad swath' of patients across western Canada

“We don’t suspect that compassionate care varies widely from province to province or in different institutions,” Sinclair explains. “But we wanted to sample a broad swath of the population across Canada, in demographically different cities to capture potential variants.”

Data will be collected through qualitative interviews and questionnaires with patients. In order to capture accurate data, Sinclair explains that the compassion model has to make sense to patients. Once questions have been initially verified  by patients and experts, the tool will then undergo formal testing in a large group of patients.

Patients will be surveyed on a range of experiences to understand the central attitudes, skills, behaviours and actions associated with compassionate care.   

CIHR funding supporting study

Sinclair’s research project is one of 39 at the University of Calgary that have been awarded Canadian Institutes for Heath Research (CIHR) funding grants. 

Sinclair is one of the first recipients of a Project Scheme award, a new grant designed to capture ideas with the greatest potential to advance health-related fundamental or applied knowledge, health research, health care, health systems, and/or health outcomes.

Read more about Sinclair’s research on compassionate care in a paper published in the U.K. journal Palliative Medicine.