Health Care Analysis

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 272–287 | Cite as

What is Patient-Centered Care? A Typology of Models and Missions

  • Sandra J. TanenbaumEmail author
Original Article


Recently adopted health care practices and policies describe themselves as “patient-centered care.” The meaning of the term, however, remains contested and obscure. This paper offers a typology of “patient-centered care” models that aims to contribute to greater clarity about, continuing discussion of, and further advances in patient-centered care. The paper imposes an original analytic framework on extensive material covering mostly US health care and health policy topics over several decades. It finds that four models of patient-centered care emphasize: patients versus their parts; patients versus providers; patients/providers/states versus “the system”; and patients and providers as persons. Each type is distinguishable along three dimensions: epistemological orientations, practical accommodations, and policy tools. Based on this analysis, the paper recommends that four questions be asked of any proposal that claims to provide patient-centered care: Is this care a means to an end or an end in itself? Are patients here subjects or objects? Are patients here individuals or aggregates? How do we know what patients want and need? The typology reveals that models are neither entirely compatible nor entirely incompatible and may be usefully combined in certain practices and policies. In other instances, internal contradictions may jeopardize the realization of coherent patient-centered care.


Health policy Medical practice Patient-centered care Philosophy of health care United States 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Health Services Management and Policy, College of Public HealthThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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