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Patient-Centered Care: What Does It Mean for You?

Health care is changing rapidly due to several factors, including legislative reform, technological innovation, and changes in the practice of medicine. One example is patient-centered care, a term that is frequently used in the media. Today’s post explores patient-centered care and what it means for you and your family.

Every patient has different values, preferences, and desired health outcomes based on his or her unique background, experiences, and lifestyle. Patient-centered care involves transforming the relationship between providers and patients from the traditional model, in which a care provider prescribes the same treatment for most patients with similar diagnoses or conditions, into a patient-provider partnership that considers treatment options based on a patient’s unique concerns, preferences, and values.

Asking Key Questions

Patient-centered care also focuses on the health outcomes that are important to individual patients, addressing questions such as: “Will this treatment improve the quality of my life? Given my lifestyle and preferences, which options are best for me? How will the implications of a particular therapy affect my family?” To answer these questions, there must be more and better communication among care providers, patients, and patients’ families. It requires health care providers, hospital administrators, and policy makers to be continuously engaged with patients so that they are aware of the outcomes that matter most to patients and can help them make decisions that are in the best interest of patients.

Patient-centered care also is being fueled by the information revolution. Patients now have instant access to health information via their computers or mobile phones. As a result, patients are better informed and more active participants in their care.

Focusing on Outcomes

In response to the shift toward patient-centered care, the Biomedical Research Institute at BWH recently established the Patient-Centered Comparative Effectiveness Research Center (PCERC). Patient-centered outcomes research, also known as “comparative effectiveness research,” focuses on identifying which of the existing treatment options will work best for patients.  Studying the effectiveness of these treatment options (medical devices, surgeries, medications, etc.), researchers can determine which may most benefit patients and which may pose the most risk. By publishing the results of these studies, researchers hope patients, caregivers and their physicians will have the necessary information to make better-informed health care decisions that take into account patient preferences.

“Patients and their health issues motivate the research community to find optimal treatments. Patient-centered outcomes research puts the patient ‘front and center’ to ensure that their questions are answered,” says Dr. Daniel Solomon.

But patient-centered care can’t happen without patients. It relies on good two-way communication. When visiting with your physician, make sure to ask questions, listen, and communicate what’s important to you.