Programs in Compassionate Communication

The Programs in Compassionate Communication consist of the Ronald W. Naito Directorship in Serious Illness Education, and the Doris and Mark Storms Chair in Compassionate Communication. These programs work side-by-side, and as part of a cohesive team, to highlight the essential role of compassionate communication in the health care experience. We believe that clear communication habits and expressions of empathy are paramount in providing excellent patient-centered care. Teaching these skills in medical and health care education programs—as well as professional development and continuing education workshops—helps create skilled clinicians that can better meet the needs of patients and increases equity in health care. 

Dr. Katie Stowers is the Ronald W. Naito Director in Serious Illness Education at the Center for Ethics. Dr. Stowers is committed to increasing patient equity in accessing quality medical care when experiencing serious illness. She believes training clinicians in communication skills empowers them to confidently navigate these difficult conversations, reduces implicit bias, and helps patients obtain care that is guided by their cultural and spiritual values, unique individual needs, and personal goals of care. 

Dr. Cliff Coleman is the inaugural Doris and Mark Storms Chair in Compassionate Communication at the Center for Ethics. Dr. Coleman is a national and international leader in the field of health literacy and clear communication training for health professionals, and an innovator of communication curriculum in medical education. He believes health literacy and clear communication are cross-cutting themes that broadly influence patient care across professions, and that training health professionals in clear communication habits helps increase patient equity in health care and improves health outcomes for patients. 

Compassionate Communication

A young female doctor and her young male patient touch each other's noses.

At the heart of every human interaction is communication. Compassionate communication enhances these interactions in health care by emphasizing the person first, and the medical situation second. 

Using effective and clear communication habits helps build trust, reduce health care-related anxiety, and facilitates better exchange and understanding of health information. It validates patient emotions and holds patients’ cultural and spiritual values as important elements of patient care.

Why Communication Education Matters

Effective communication is a key ingredient in building the clinician-patient relationship and is essential in creating a high-quality patient care experience. Effective communication is also a skill that requires patience, learning, practice, and feedback. Developing skills in compassionate communication requires time and intentional effort. Research in communication shows that clinicians tend to overestimate their ability to communicate skillfully, and patient surveys consistently show that they desire better communication in their health care experiences.  The Programs in Compassionate Communication focus on teaching these skills through:

  • research, dissemination, and outreach efforts,
  • short-term training opportunities for practicing clinicians and other health care and industry professionals,
  • longitudinal training opportunities that begin in undergraduate coursework and continues throughout graduate medical education programs. 

The Importance of Clear and Compassionate Communication

Practicing clear, compassionate, and effective communication habits comes with many benefits to both patients and clinicians.

  • Builds trust and confidence in the clinician and their competence. 
  • Improves health outcomes and quality of life. 
  • Improves ability to understand and use medical information to make health-related decisions.
  • Increases adherence to treatment plans.
  • Reduces length of hospital stays and hospital readmission rates.
  • Helps to better identify patient needs, perceptions, and expectations.
  • Increases ability to make patient-centered treatment recommendations.
  • Helps identify and attend to patient emotions. 
  • Leads to great job satisfaction for clinicians.
  • Reduces work-related stress and burnout.
  • Improves self-efficacy. 
Patients and Clinicians
  • Increases satisfaction level for both patients and clinicians.
  • Improves mental and spiritual well-being.
  • Enables designing treatment plans concordant with patients' goals and values. 
  • Builds rapport in the patient-clinician relationship.
  • Facilitate the successful exchange of open and honest health information. 
  • Helps to reduce preventable medical errors.