Patient-Centered Care

I saw this phrase in a newspaper article this morning and realized I’d grown weary of its use.  Unfortunately, “patient-centered care” is so abundant in our language that it seems to have become simply a buzz slogan in healthcare circles.  So many institutions use the expression to market their brand of care.  An internet search reveals 6,780,000 (yes, millions!) of “hits”.  Internet images of patient-centered care, show various “wheels” with the patient placed directly in the center hub with spokes for the variety of individual care providers branching out from the patient. (This is my personal “wheel”.)  Cindys Patient Centered TeamIt all looks good on paper/screen but it must be put into action to be effective.

For many of us who work in healthcare, “patient-centered care” has deep meaning.  We strive to provide the best care we can to each of our patients (residents, clients – whatever we call the people we serve) based on the individual’s needs, symptoms, wishes, and goals.   Many of us believe that healthcare works best when plans of care — treatments, therapies and medications — are specific to the individual and not a broad-brush application based on generalized assumptions or measurements dictated by institutional protocol.

A few days ago, I attended a very informative seminar on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care.  Every point the trainer made focused on patient-centered care for the patient with dementia.  Because there are at least 80 different types of dementia, the need for specialized, individualized plans of care become very important.  My trainer repeated a phrase often in her presentation:  “When you meet one patient with dementia, you’ve met one.”  Which is to say that not every person with dementia will present the same way or respond to the same kinds of care.  Some will be aggressive, combative and belligerent.  Others may be meek, mild and withdrawn.  Most may share a symptom or two like forgetting how to do simple tasks, or be unable to express their needs.  In the world of dementia care, patient-centered is obviously paramount.  I believe this type of care planning should be applicable to all disease states because if you’ve met one patient with (fill in a disease name), you’ve met just one.  One person.  One single individual with very different values, beliefs and needs that differ from the next patient with a similar disease.

We need to move away from the buzz.  In order for actual patient-centered care to work, patients must become active in their health care planning.  As patients, we need to be knowledgeable about our options, understand consequences and impacts, and make decisions.  We must ask questions of our healthcare team.  Discuss options and alternatives to care.  Discuss pros and cons of medications, treatments, surgeries, etc.  We need to talk about future healthcare concerns now and prepare our family/friends for truly patient-centered care – making decisions based on our values, beliefs and goals, especially when we can no longer speak for ourselves.

Caring Choices advocates for true patient-centered care by encouraging (and supporting) individuals to talk with their family, friends and trusted healthcare providers and share choices they would make in future health/aging scenarios.  Most people already know what kinds of healthcare situations they would not want to be in.  The time to speak for ourselves is now, when we’re healthy and able to do so.

© 2015 Caring Choices