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May 14, 2012

Your Role in the Patient-Centered Health Care Team

Learn how to take a more active role in the health care you receive and why it's important.

Traditionally, medicine has been primarily “disease-centered,” meaning doctors base most of their decisions on clinical evidence, while patients listen to and comply (or not) with doctors’ recommendations. As such, patients were minimally engaged throughout the decision-making process and received little education on their treatment options. Over the years, this type of care has been replaced by “patient-centered care,” in which patients play a much more active role in the care they receive. The goal of patient-centered care is to engage patients more in clinical decisions to promote better care that is right for each patient, based on his or her individual needs and values.

Because patient-centered care is essential to improving health care, the American College of Cardiology Foundation created a committee of experts and consumers to conduct a review of everything we know about the topic. Together, this group helped answer key questions about patient-centered care, including “What does it mean?” and “How can we achieve it?” Their answers were published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Here’s what patients should know about patient-centered care:

  1. Patient-centered care means providing care based on an individual’s needs and values.
  1. Achieving patient-centered care requires shared responsibility between patients and providers. While doctors must provide the best care possible, patients need to accept responsibility for managing their health condition together with their health care team.
  1. Education is key. Although doctors should provide patients with health information in a way that they can understand, patients must put in time and effort to take advantage of the many resources available to them. There are many types of education, from brochures to group education sessions, to accommodate patients of all backgrounds and learning styles.
  1. Patients need to work with their doctors to plan their care and set goals, rather than relying on doctors to make these decisions for them. Through shared-decision making, patients can work with providers to choose the most appropriate treatment options based on their values and needs.
  1. A number of factors can measure health outcomes, including symptoms, function and quality of life. Patients must take into account all three when making decisions and setting goals with their health care team.
  1. Patients are responsible for monitoring their own health at home between visits to the doctor. This means following treatment plans correctly and tracking their health, as recommended by their doctor. For example, if a patient has high blood pressure and is told to check their blood pressure each morning, they must do so, and record their results to share with their physician.
  1. Patient-centered care requires a continued partnership between patients and their doctors, especially for those with chronic conditions. Patients must continually communicate with their health care team and vice versa.
Read this Article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What if I have tried to learn more about my health but still have trouble understanding?
  • Patients who have trouble understanding their health conditions should ask for help from their health care team, whether it's a doctor, nurse or counselor. Health care providers can help point patients to a variety of resources that can cater to individual needs.
  • Has patient-centered care been achieved in the U.S.?
  • Although medicine has slowly shifted toward patient-centered care in recent years, there is still more work to be done. There is room for improvement around education and communication, and the health care system needs to better promote patient-centered care through its structure and financial incentives.