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Putting people at the centre of our health care system


Putting people at the centre of our health care system
By: Dr. Paul Holyoke, Director, Saint Elizabeth Research Centre (Markham, Ontario) -------------

Canadians want more customization and a bigger say in their health care. As the philosophy and practice of person and family centred care gains ground the world over, including here in Canada, there is growing evidence that it can contribute to better quality of care; higher patient, family and provider satisfaction; better health outcomes and increased family involvement.  

What is person and family centred care?

Person and family centred care is an approach that acknowledges the expertise and experience that both care recipients and providers bring to the relationship, to ensure care reflects people’s individual needs and goals.

As our population ages, it is critical that we support health care providers in meeting the unique needs of each person and family they serve. Accreditation Canada — a not-for-profit organization that works to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of health care — introduced significant changes to its standards this year to reflect an increased focus on person and family centred care. This change has raised the bar for health organizations to embed this approach in all they do. A national seniors strategy, based on the principles of person and family centred care, would be a significant next step in the journey to improve health care in Canada.

At the Saint Elizabeth Research Centre in Markham, we have spent the last seven years exploring how to create and sustain a culture of person and family centred care within health organizations, including home care, community and long-term care settings.

Successfully adopting a culture of person and family centred care across health organizations and the system is a big undertaking. While our health care system is starting to make some progress, there is still a long way to go.

Below are some key considerations based on our experience delivering person and family centred care education to more than 4,000 care providers, leaders and support staff across Canada.

Bringing person and family centred care to life: 5 tips for success

  1. To support employees in practicing person and family centred care, the principles must be embedded throughout the entire organization – not only at the point of care.
  2. Be flexible when it comes to designing and implementing person and family centred education and approaches. There is no single “best way” to practice person and family centred care – be prepared to tailor your approach based on the needs of your own organization and staff.
  3. Leadership support is required throughout! Engage with key stakeholders early and often; maintain open two-way communication; and encourage feedback throughout the change process. For person and family centred care to be sustainable, the leadership team needs to hear about and respond to any challenges and barriers you are facing.
  4. Practicing person and family centred care is everyone’s responsibility – recognize and honour the contribution each employee makes to the client experience.
  5. Above all, remember that person and family centred care is a philosophy to inform the approach to providing care, rather than a specific checklist of tasks to complete.

In 2015, we established the Saint Elizabeth Person and Family Centred Care Institute to consolidate our resources and knowledge for sharing across the country. The Institute offers education and consulting services, and a wide range of free resources. We will also be launching a person and family centred care community of practice in late fall 2016, which will be an online space where people can ask questions, share strategies and resources, and collaboratively problem-solve challenges.



Dr. Paul Holyoke is Director of the Saint Elizabeth Research Centre, which has an extensive applied research portfolio across four themes: person and family centred care; family caregivers, end-of-life care and integrated care and transitions. Website |Twitter