3 Ways to Tell If Your Doctor Has a Patient-Centered Focus

Patient and doctor

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Most doctors today are trained to take a more patient-centered focus toward the practice of medicine. What this means is that they take time educating their patients about their diseases or conditions. It also means that they encourage questions and collaboration as well as discuss how the condition will impact the patient, not only physically but emotionally as well. And most importantly, they actively involve their patients—and many times family members—in the treatment decisions.

What Is a Patient-Centered Approach?

A patient-centric approach to medicine is a way for healthcare providers to develop a partnership between practitioners, patients, and their families. Whether these practitioners are doctors, nurses, or technicians, the goal is to align all healthcare recommendations with the patient's desires, needs, and preferences.

This approach includes focusing on the overall well-being of the patient from day one by establishing good doctor-patient communication. It also means providing not only treatment options but prevention and early detection procedures as well. All of this information is then aligned with each patient's unique characteristics and goals.

The idea of patient-centered care is growing in the United States. What's more, the concept is supported by the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, and the American Osteopathic Association. As a result, more and more doctors are incorporating patient-centered approaches in their practices.

Meanwhile, patient-centered care should not be confused with "patient-directed" care. In this situation, the patient demands certain tests or treatments and views the doctor's role as doing whatever is requested. This is not the purpose of patient-centered care. Patient-centered care is about a collaborative approach where the doctor, the patient, and sometimes the family members, form a decision-making team.

Benefits and Pitfalls

Research has shown that the relationship between a patient and her doctor greatly determines not only the patient's satisfaction with her care but also her treatment outcomes. In fact, some research has shown that patients are more likely to follow doctor's orders when they feel like their physician is empathetic and in tune with their wants and needs.

Typically, people feel a doctor is empathetic when she acknowledges how the patient feels and shares information or ideas on how to address her unique situation. By contrast, a lack of relationship, including a lack of communication and empathy, can negatively impact a person's health and her willingness to follow the doctor's orders.

Other benefits of a patient-centered approach include a better understanding of the patient's goals and desires by the doctor and a better understanding of the disease or condition by the patient, including the risks and benefits of different treatment options. The combination of these two things leads to better decision-making because both the doctor and the patient are working together to address the issue. The end result is improved well-being and health care.

Conversely, a University of Iowa study suggests that patient-centered care is not for everyone. While many patients benefit from this approach there are still some patients who are significantly less likely to follow their doctors' orders and feel less satisfied with their care when physicians take the patient-centered approach.

According to the study, published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, some patients, especially older patients, prefer a doctor with a more traditional "doctor-centered" style. These doctors tend to spend less time explaining a condition and seek little patient input when it comes to treatment decisions. But there are patients that like it that way. In fact, the study found when these types of patients are paired with patient-centered doctors, they are less likely to follow treatment recommendations or feel satisfied with their care than they are with a doctor-centered approach.

Consequently, it is important to seek out a patient-centered doctor only if that is the type of approach you prefer. The key to quality healthcare is finding a provider that shares your goals and values — one that you will listen to and follow the treatment plan.

Signs Your Doctor Has a Patient-Centered Approach

There are three distinct hallmarks of a patient-centered physician. These include treating you like a person, developing a partnership with you and maintaining an ongoing relationship. Here is an overview of what that looks like:

  • Patient-centered doctors treat you like a person: Too many times, doctors are so focused on the disease or condition that they forget that they are dealing with a real person that has feelings, concerns, and fears. If your doctor takes time to treat you like a person, recognizing and acknowledging your fears and concerns, then she is likely a patient-centered doctor. Patient-centered doctors recognize that they are not just treating your disease or your condition. They are also concerned with overall health and well-being. As a result, they are willing to find out more about your health than just your symptoms. They also are interested in your thoughts, your feelings, your lifestyle, and your habits. All of these things help paint a picture of who you are, which helps them tailor a treatment plan to your specific wants and needs.
  • Patient-centered doctors develop a partnership with you: When your doctor is patient-centered, she treats you as a partner when making healthcare decisions. Instead of acting as the final authority, a patient-centered doctor will allow you to have a voice when it comes to your treatment plan. What's more, the doctor tends to provide all the options including the risks and benefits and allows the patient to make a decision based on her goals, values, and preferences. She encourages questions and is patient in discussing all the alternatives. If you feel like your doctor is talking down to you or trying to force you to make a certain decision, this doctor is not incorporating a patient-centered focus. A patient-centered physician wants to empower you to make informed healthcare decisions that are right for you. What's more, you have the right to refuse treatment if you want.
  • Patient-centered doctors maintain an ongoing relationship: This approach means that the patient and doctor have a relationship where the physician is familiar with the patient’s unique circumstances. In other words, the doctor wants to know what else is going on in the patient's life including what specialists she is seeing and what other conditions she is dealing with. When a doctor has a complete picture of the patient's health, she is better able to address her overall health. She also may have systems in place to coordinate care with other providers, and takes an active approach in communicating with the patient's other doctors and specialists.

A Word From Verywell 

When looking for a doctor, search for someone who matches your style and preferences. Remember, doctors' attitudes and personalities are diverse and finding a good match is important. Doing so will not only help determine how satisfied you are with the care you receive but also may determine the likelihood of whether or not you follow their advice.

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Article Sources

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  • Epstein, RM, Street, RL. "The Values and Value of Patient Centered Care," The Annals of Family Medicine, 2011.