Are you receiving what might be called “generic” health care management, that doesn’t address the entire scope of your needs as a distinct individual? Or is your health care focused on you, caring for the whole person? The first instance is old-school paternalistic medicine; the latter is patient-centered care, a rapidly growing movement in care provision and treatment.
According to the The Institute for Healthcare Improvement, patient-centered care takes culture, language, personal preferences, traditions, values, family dynamics, and lifestyle into account. It makes the you and you loved ones a fundamental part of the care team; you work in cooperation with health professionals to make clinical choices that are in your best interests.
Instead of a cold, disconnected, top-down, intrusive encounter, the goal of patient-centered care is to take your needs and wishes into account by incorporating them into any plan of care. You become an active partner, not a passive recipient. Your wishes, beliefs, and values are not only considered, but prioritized.
In the PBS Series Remaking American Medicine: Healthcare for the 21st Century, four concepts stood out as vital to patient-centered care: dignity and respect, information sharing, participation, and collaboration. For example,
- Is your physician an active listener, who takes all of your physical, mental, and emotional symptoms into account before diagnosing the problem?
- Are you or a family member encouraged to ask questions and given the opportunity to participate in developing your care plan?
- Does your doctor take your cultural background, value system, or traditions into account when explaining diagnoses or treatment options?
- Is information explained in plain, easy-to-understand terms? Are medications or treatment plans provided in writing?
- Does he/she communicate with specialists, therapists, and other practitioners to coordinate treatment, testing, and medications?
Patient-centered care helps put you in the driver’s seat. However, it also comes with responsibilities – like making sure you ask questions to verify discharge instructions, treatment plans, medication dosing and side effects. The Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research suggests keeping a list of all medications – including over the counter drugs – with you. This is especially important if you see more than one provider, such as a cardiologist in addition to your internist or general practitioner; certain combinations of drugs result in highly adverse interactions.
Perhaps the most important step in ensuring patient-centered care is to communicate openly and honestly with your practitioner. Your doctor needs to know all of the information available to make accurate diagnoses and treat you properly. He or she also should explain why you are getting certain treatments, tests, medications, or advice. If your doctor is not caring for you as a whole person, ask why not. Don’t be afraid to speak up. It’s your health.