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What is Patient-Centered Care?: Everything You Need to Know

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This blog was originally published in June 2022 and was updated in October 2023

Patient-centered care transcends the traditional doctor-patient relationship, providing care focused on tailoring medical services to individual needs, values, and preferences. But what is patient-centered care, exactly, and how can you implement it in your practice?

Today we will discuss all the details of patient-centered care, including its benefits, its challenges, and how to provide a more patient-focused approach at your independent practice. 

What is patient-centered care?

Patient-centered care is defined by the National Academy of Medicine as “providing treatment that is respectful of, and sensitive to, individual patient choices, needs, and values, and ensuring that patient values lead all clinical decisions.”

The second listed goal in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Quality Strategy is to “strengthen persons and their families as partners in their care.” The strategic result of this goal is that “persons and families are engaged as informed, empowered partners in care.”

For independent primary care physicians, it may seem obvious that they should provide care focused on the patient’s needs. That is, after all, what they are tasked to do and what they deem to be their calling—to focus on their patients’ healthcare. 

Patient-focused care, however, takes a slightly different approach to the independent primary care practice than may have been seen in traditional practices.

The CMS Quality Strategy explains that, according to the National Quality Forum, patient-centered care is focused on “collaborative partnerships among individuals, their defined family, and providers of care. It supports health and well-being by being consistent with, respectful of, and responsive to an individual’s priorities, goals, needs, and values.”

Why is patient-centered care important? 

Patient engagement is a crucial element in patient-focused care. Involving the patient and the patient’s family in crucial decisions can empower the patient to be more vigilant regarding medications and follow-up visits. 

Patients who are encouraged to communicate with the primary care physician during and after the visit tend to be more vested and more active in their healthcare plan, benefiting both the patient and the provider.

In patient-focused care, the patient is given more control over care decisions. The primary care physician does not simply give the patient a diagnosis and instructions for a care plan. Rather, the diagnosis is thoroughly discussed with the patient and, where appropriate, the patient’s family. 

Being informed about all aspects of the diagnosis and the treatment plan, and having a part in the decision-making around that plan, allows the patient to be more responsible and more responsive through the treatment process.

4 key components of patient-centered care

The patient-centered care model functions on four key components. These are:

1. Effective communication

Healthcare providers need to speak with their patients in a transparent and easy-to-understand way so that patients can take responsibility for their treatment.

Doctors should listen carefully to patient concerns and answer any questions they may have. 

2. Coordination and integration of care

Doctors, nurses, and specialists need to share information and work together as a team to provide the best holistic care for patients.

3. Respect for patient's values and preferences

Patient-centered care means doctors and nurses need to respect patient preferences and consider patients’ values and needs when making medical decisions.

4. Access to care

Patient-centered care makes sure everyone has a fair chance to get the care they need. This means eliminating the hassle of finding in-network providers, and ensuring there aren’t long wait times for treatment.

Benefits of patient-centered care

The patient-centered care model offers many benefits for both patients and physicians, including:

Enhanced patient satisfaction

Patient-centered care focuses on meeting the unique needs and preferences of individual patients. When patients feel involved in their care decisions, they are more satisfied with their healthcare experience, leading to better compliance.

Increased efficiency

By emphasizing effective communication and coordination, patient-centered care reduces misunderstandings and duplications in care. This can lead to fewer unnecessary tests, treatments, and hospital readmissions, ultimately saving time and resources.

Empowerment of patients

Patient-centered care encourages patients to be active participants in their healthcare. Empowered patients are more likely to follow through with treatment plans and take better care of their health, which can lead to better health outcomes.

Cost savings

While patient-centered care may require some initial investments in training and communication systems, it can lead to significant long-term savings. By reducing medical errors and unnecessary tests, healthcare systems can lower overall costs.

Additionally, when patients are actively engaged in their healthcare, they tend to manage chronic conditions more effectively, reducing the need for expensive emergency care services.

The main challenges with providing patient-centered care

While switching to a model of care focused on patients’ needs may be beneficial, it can also present some challenges. Some difficulties in implementing a patient-centered care model include:

Time constraints

One of the primary challenges in the patient-centered care model is the limited time available during medical appointments. Tight schedules can make it difficult to engage in thorough conversations with patients to fully understand their needs and preferences.

Cultural sensitivity

Cultural diversity is a significant factor in healthcare. Patients from different backgrounds may have unique beliefs, values, and expectations. Healthcare providers need to be culturally sensitive, but they may lack the necessary knowledge or training to do so.

Patient expectations

Patients often have high (or unrealistic) expectations. Managing these expectations requires clear and honest communication, which can be time-consuming and emotionally taxing for healthcare providers.

Provider burnout

Healthcare professionals can experience burnout when trying to consistently empathize with patients and provide patient-centered care. This burnout can have negative consequences for both the healthcare system and patient care.

To overcome these challenges, you should invest in training and support for your staff. This includes time management strategies, cultural competency training, and strategies to reduce burnout.

Tips to help physicians provide more patient-centered care

If you are hoping to provide patient-centered care at your practice, here are a few things you should keep in mind:

Respect patient preferences

Personalizing a patient’s treatment based on their values and beliefs can lead to higher patient satisfaction and adherence to treatment. This includes understanding dietary restrictions, religious practices, and other cultural factors that influence a patient's health decisions.

When you actively involve patients in medical decisions, patients are more likely to feel engaged and informed about their healthcare choices.

Use effective time management

Efficient scheduling practices can help reduce patient wait times, leading to improved patient experiences. You can also invest in software (like EHR) that streamlines your work processes, so you can spend more time in appointments with your patients.

Allocating more time for patient visits will give you more time to address concerns, answer questions, and discuss treatment options in a patient-centered manner.

Utilize EHR solutions

EHRs enable physicians to access a patient's medical history, lab results, treatment plans, and preferences quickly. This accessibility can enhance the quality of care by allowing physicians to make informed decisions during the appointment.

EHR systems can also facilitate better coordination among healthcare providers, ensuring that all members of the care team are informed about the patient's history, values, and treatment goals.

Deliver patient-centered care with Elation EHR

Elation EHR is a complete HIPAA-compliant, ONC-certified EHR system for independent practices and enterprises alike. With advanced features like intuitive patient charting, secure patient communication, and extensive integrations, Elation EHR is the system you need to scale your practice. 

This intuitive EHR solution can improve your patient-centered care by streamlining processes, enhancing communication, and allowing you to provide better care. Discover the benefits of using Elation EHR in your healthcare practice by requesting a demo of Elation EHR today.

Not ready to see a demo yet? Explore a sample chart on your own time!