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What is patient-centered care?

Last updated

19 July 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

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Patient-centered care puts patients at the core of healthcare service delivery. Their needs are the driving force behind all decisions during healthcare planning and goal setting. 

When patients take an active role in their care, they are empowered, and health outcomes are improved. Patient-centered care yields better patient experience, informs more personalized therapies, and streamlines healthcare delivery. 

Keep reading to discover what patient-centered care means, the challenges of providing it effectively, and successful examples from healthcare institutions.

How does patient-centered care work? 

Patient-centered care treats the person receiving healthcare with compassion, respect, and dignity. 

This type of care requires the healthcare provider to understand the patient is unique. It emphasizes collaborating with patients and responding to their preferences, values, and needs. 

An essential part of patient-centered care is that they become actively involved in decision-making and goal-setting. It gives them the necessary resources to make decisions concerning their treatment plans. 

The basic concepts of patient-centered care are:

  • Information sharing: Healthcare professionals promptly communicate and share reliable information with patients and family members to facilitate decision-making.

  • Dignity and respect: Healthcare professionals listen to and honor patients' preferences.

  • Participation: Patients are encouraged and supported to contribute to decisions. 

  • Collaboration: Patients, family members, and healthcare professionals collaborate in implementing decisions that best suit the patient. 

In the patient-centered approach, patients:

  • Are encouraged and supported to be involved in planning and decision-making

  • Have clear communication from healthcare professionals in a language they understand

  • Have a clear feedback process

  • Have providers honor and respect their needs and preferences

Patient-centered care vs. value-based care

Value-based care is a healthcare delivery model where providers receive payment based on successful healthcare outcomes rather than individual services. 

It measures value by weighing health outcomes against the expense of delivering the results. Its main goal is to standardize healthcare processes by implementing best practices. 

Value-based care incentivizes healthcare professionals to make improvements. 

Unlike value-based care, patient-centered care generates better patient experience and improved quality care. Both can improve health outcomes and reduce patient expenses. 

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Why is patient-centered care vital?

Patient-centered care is important because:

  • Patients become more comfortable with the healthcare services they are receiving.

  • It ensures patients are well-informed and satisfied while receiving healthcare treatment. 

  • It supports shared decision-making between the patient, family members, and providers.

  • Patients feel more motivated to participate in healthcare planning if providers consider their input and tailor care to their needs. 

Benefits of patient-centered care 

Benefits of patient-centered care include:

Improved outcomes

Patient-centered care has taken center stage in healthcare as it enables communicating and coordinating personalized patient care. The patient-centered approach improves the quality of care. 

For example, healthcare organizations implementing a patient-centered approach may report faster recoveries and lower numbers of emergency room visits.

Improved patient satisfaction

Patient-centered care allows healthcare professionals to tailor care to suit patient needs. 

It prioritizes respecting individual preferences and diversity. Satisfaction increases when patients feel that providers are supportive and listening to their needs. 

Improved reputation for your organization

Patients are healthcare consumers seeking treatment; therefore, they can act as promoters or detractors of your brand. 

Patient-centered care makes patients more likely to be satisfied with the quality of care and give more positive reviews. 

In addition, there’s a flow of feedback with streamlined communication and collaboration. You can use feedback to redesign the healthcare delivery system, encourage staff accountability, and welcome change. 

This gives you a better chance of improving your organization's reputation in the industry. 

Better job satisfaction for staff

Patient-centered care approach results in a better working environment for staff. 

When an environment focuses more on the patient, staff members are happier and more focused on meeting the patient's needs. As a result, employees experience increased morale and less burnout. 

Reduce care costs

Another advantage of patient-centered care is cost-effectiveness. Prioritizing what matters the most will help your organization minimize errors and resource waste. 

From the patient's side, it:

  • Eliminates unnecessary procedures

  • Reduces admission rates

  • Shortens hospital stays

  • Reduces costly emergency room visits 

Picker's eight principles of patient-centered care 

Picker Institute worked to promote patient-centered care. Their researchers developed a framework that drives what matters the most to healthcare service consumers (patients). 

1. Respect for the patient's values, preferences, and expressed needs

This principle ensures providers respect patients by honoring their needs and preferences where possible. Therefore, patients must receive respect, dignity, and cultural sensitivity.

In addition, patients have the right to be involved in care decisions. For instance, a patient can refuse treatment options they are uncomfortable with. 

If the patient has no capacity to make decisions, they can appoint someone to represent them. 

2. Coordination and integration of care

Care coordination and integration ensure that medical preferences travel with the patient throughout their healthcare journey. 

In patient-centered care, patients come in contact with various healthcare departments. This dimension of patient-centered care ensures the medical team supports patients as they move through different care settings. 

For example, health professionals should coordinate information sharing to ensure the seamless flow of services. They should coordinate and integrate facets of care such as clinical, ancillary, and front-line care so patients do not feel vulnerable or left out. 

Healthcare providers should always refer to the initial healthcare plan to meet patient needs. 

3. Information and education

A vital part of patient-centered care is informing patients about their health progress and diagnoses. 

Patients using healthcare services should receive reliable and high-quality information throughout their healthcare journey. Providers should ensure this information is available at appropriate times for patients to make informed decisions. 

Providers should routinely consult patients about their health status and treatment outcomes to achieve this. Transparency with information provision ensures patients feel more secure and trusting in their healthcare journey.

4. Physical comfort

Physical comfort ensures the patient is cared for in a safe and comfortable environment. 

Healthcare environments that are loud, cold, clustered, poorly lit, or uncomfortably furnished are likely to adversely impact patient mood and trigger anxiety. 

On the other hand, providing physical comfort will improve the patient's health outcome. 

Care providers can assess their physical comfort by asking patients about accommodations. They could also assess their pain levels or assist with difficult daily living activities. 

5. Emotional support and alleviation of fear and anxiety

Another core principle is reducing a patient's stress levels: Fear and anxiety are common effects of dealing with health problems. 

Therefore, healthcare professionals should be compassionate, show empathy, and validate patients’ feelings. 

They can also consult the patient about their mental health and discuss any concerns and fears while receiving treatment. 

6. Involvement of family and friends

Healthcare providers should recognize the importance of family and friends in the patient’s overall well-being. 

Instead of welcoming family members as just visitors, providers should view them as partners. Since they are responsible for caring for the patient, healthcare professionals should not underestimate family members. 

They can support loved ones and encourage them to participate in the patient's journey. Providers can optimize communication and provide accommodations like comfortable seating and free meals. 

7. Continuity and transition

Patients may express concern about living independently after discharge. Patient-centered care ensures a seamless transition and continuity of care. 

For instance, there should be detailed information regarding: 

  • Dietary needs or restrictions

  • Medical prescriptions

  • Side effects of certain drugs

  • Necessary exercises 

  • Physical limitations after discharge

Patients should also receive access to clinical support continuously. 

For example, the healthcare professional can plan for a nurse to routinely visit the patient at home and offer continuous support. 

8. Access to care

Providers should remove the barriers to access to care by providing: 

  • Convenient transportation

  • Correct schedules

  • Minimal waiting time

  • Generous availability of health specialists 

Access to healthcare services at the right time ensures high-quality care.

Challenges to patient-centered care

Many organizations haven’t implemented patient-centered care due to several challenges:

Poor organizational culture and unsupportive leadership

Organizational culture is vital in motivating teams and individuals to prioritize patient-centered care. 

When an organization's culture aligns its mission and values with patient-centered goals, it can implement patient-centered care. 

Leaders should be the forerunners in applying this approach. When leaders do not champion patient-centered care principles, staff may be unmotivated to provide high-quality care. 

Heavy workload and compassion fatigue

A high number of patients means a higher risk of compassion fatigue. Patient duties may overload staff, causing burnout and improper care. Staff shortages can cause physical and psychological stress for health practitioners. 

These elements deter the implementation of patient-centered care.

Resistance to change

Health professionals may consciously or unconsciously show a lack of interest and commitment to accepting patient-centered care. This is a hurdle to the implementation of the care approach. 

Providers need to remember that each patient is unique rather than falling into stereotypes. 

Professional readiness to embrace change can enhance health outcomes and improve the quality of healthcare services. 

Power hierarchies

In addition, power hierarchies that place healthcare providers at the top of decision-making hinder patient-centered care. 

Healthcare professionals working according to traditional structures may restrict the freedom to engage in patient-centered care. 

The best way to overcome power hierarchies is through shared decision-making. 

Patient-centered care examples

Providers can weave a patient-centered approach into a patient's journey in several ways. 

Here are examples of patient-centered care in today's healthcare institutions:

  • A chance for patients to choose what meals they like.

  • Changing their bedtime routine depending on when they feel most productive.

  • The clinician and patient decide together whether it is appropriate to give home treatment depending on the patient's physical comfort.

  • Providing ancillary support to the patient to perform everyday tasks independently, including access to walking aids and wheelchairs. 

  • For patients living with dementia, introducing meditation rooms, music or art therapy, and any other support programs to create a soothing environment for them.

  • Customizing their hospital room environments to their preferences and making patients comfortable, i.e., adjusting sound, temperature, and light controls to fit their needs. 

  • Recognizing the patient's unique cultural background: For instance, respecting the patient's beliefs surrounding birth, death, pregnancy, and diet preferences. 

  • Offering diabetic education, which may include scheduling an appointment with a diabetic educator and giving information on insulin administration. 

  • Therapists offering a comfortable, non-judgmental, and safe environment for the patients to share their feelings.


What are the three levels of patient-centered care?

Patient-centered care consists of effective communication, collaboration, and health education. 

Who created patient-centered care?

A psychologist called Carl Rogers created the concept of patient-centered care in the 1940s. 

What is another name for patient-centered care?

It also means person-centered care, which empowers people to actively participate in their care.

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