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Making Informed Decisions for Better Health

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Patient-centered Care: Emphasizing Patient Values

In the first half of the 20th century, medicine was so patient-centered that your doctor knew your medical history and sometimes even your parents' and grandparents' histories. This is different today; often, you must visit a clinic or medical practice where you are sometimes seen by the first available practitioner, regardless of whether the practitioner is familiar with you and your history. Even if you are seen by your regular practitioner, there's no guarantee that he or she is fully current with your health status.

A lot has changed in healthcare over the years, and one of the biggest transformations has been the evolving role of the patient in this new patient-doctor relationship. While this new relationship provides an opportunity for you to be an active participant in your care, it also involves more responsibility on your part, asking you to be more knowledgeable about your own health history, more assertive in asking questions, and more vocal in discussing your preferences when it comes to care.

This new role has been characterized in healthcare circles as "patient-centered care." According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), patient-centered care means "providing care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values, and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions." What this means for you as a patient is that when you are fully engaged in your care, you can have a frank and informative discussion with your doctor and be more involved in the decisions regarding your care.

You can expect that your practitioner will advise you according to the latest evidence-based guidelines and will help you understand what this means for your personal care. You, in turn, can be fully engaged when you are prepared to ask questions when you don't understand something and are willing to discuss your concerns and hopes regarding diagnosis and treatment and your quality of life. Together, you and your practitioner can determine the care you need to achieve the best health outcome by finding the right balance between evidence-based guidelines and your personal values.

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