The Institute of Medicine defines patient-centered care as “providing care that is respectful of, and responsive to, individual patient preferences, needs and values, and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions.” What is missing in this definition is an explicit emphasis on compassion. This perspective article draws on the experience of Planetree (CT, USA), a not-for-profit organization that partners with healthcare establishments to drive adoption of patient-centered care principles and practices by connecting healthcare professionals with the voices and perspectives of the patients and family members who utilize their services. Across hundreds of focus groups facilitated by Planetree, patients and their loved ones emphasize that paramount among their needs, preferences and values are compassionate human interactions. For care to be truly patient-centered, a foundation of compassion is essential. Reports from patients and the media, and research from healthcare systems around the world demonstrate the fallacy of assuming that compassion is a current or prevalent feature of the care experience. Concurrently, a growing evidence base highlights the supreme importance of compassion in driving high-quality, high-value care. However, good intentions are not sufficient for delivering compassionate care. Drawing on the experiences of exemplary patient-centered hospitals (recognized as such following a rigorous culture audit to determine fulfillment of the criteria for formal recognition as a Designated® Patient-Centered Hospital [Planetree]), this paper explores practical approaches for embedding compassion in healthcare delivery and organizational culture to meet patients‘ expressed desires for empathic and respectful human interactions.