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Human-Centered vs. Patient-Centered Care

By: James P. Young, Jr., PhD

While subtle, the distinction between human-centered and patient-centered care is significant, especially in healthcare delivery and design. Both approaches prioritize the needs and experiences of individuals receiving care but differ in scope and focus.

Patient-Centered Care

This approach primarily concerns the patient's specific health needs and conditions. It emphasizes tailoring healthcare services to meet patients' individual health needs, and it is often driven by clinical outcomes and medical effectiveness, aligning treatment plans with the patient's medical conditions, preferences, and values.

The implementation of patient-centered care is predominantly within clinical or healthcare environments. It revolves around the patient's experience with illness or health issues. Professionals in this model are more focused on providing respectful care and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values.

The success of patient-centered care is often gauged by health outcomes, patient satisfaction with care, and adherence to treatment protocols.

Human-Centered Care

Human-centered care extends beyond the clinical aspects of care. It considers the patient as a whole person, including their emotional, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. This approach encompasses not just the time spent in a healthcare setting but also considers the broader context of the individual's life, including their home, community, and workplace.

Since the pandemic, this whole-person approach has gained interest and increasingly guides strategies for improving comprehension and application of how social determinants of health influence health behaviors and outcomes.

Also, empathy is strongly emphasized, as well as understanding the person's life journey and recognizing that various personal and environmental factors influence each individual's health, decisions, and behaviors.

In human-centered care, there's a stronger emphasis on collaboration among healthcare providers, patients, and families. It encourages active participation from the patient in all aspects of care and decision-making.

Compared to patient-centered care, the effectiveness of human-centered care is measured in clinical outcomes and improvements in the overall quality of life, patient empowerment, and long-term wellness.

So, while patient-centered care focuses more on the medical and health aspects of care within clinical settings, human-centered care adopts a more holistic view, encompassing the full spectrum of an individual's life. It emphasizes empathy, understanding, and the broader social, emotional, and environmental factors that impact a person's well-being (1)

For Humans of Color

Human-centered care offers a more inclusive, comprehensive, and culturally sensitive approach than traditional patient-centered care, particularly benefiting people of color. It addresses their medical needs and acknowledges and incorporates their broader life context, cultural identity, and personal experiences into their care. This approach is vital for reducing health disparities and improving overall health outcomes for these communities.

This video from our workshop will help you learn more about the science that supports this analysis(2).

1. Searl MM, Borgi L, Chemali Z. It is time to talk about people: a human-centered healthcare system. Health Research Policy and Systems. 2010;8(1):35.

2. Young JP. Examination of racial disparity in healthcare satisfaction and utilization of preventative healthcare screenings for retirees of organized labor: Application of Cox interaction model of client health behavior. Doctoral Dissertation Abstracts, Capella University, 2006. 2006;DAI-B 67/04 p. 1897.


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