Guest post by Hélène Campbell and Heather Thiessen, Patient Leaders with HSO

Patient-centred care and people-centred care share an acronym but they are definitely not interchangeable. They are, in fact, quite different. Let us explain why.

Health care used to be based on a systematic model of care, and that model was a unidirectional clinical approach. Basically, doctors and care providers worked together to treat illnesses, conditions and injuries with very little input from patients or their families.

Around the turn of the 21st century, a big cultural shift began to take place. Gradually, health care providers started to listen to the voice of patients and families. Little by little, health organizations came to realize patients and their families were the most under-utilized of all health resources, and took steps to remedy this situation.

Patients are not trained in medical school, but they are experts in their condition because they live with it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When a health professional first meets a patient, she only sees the tip of the iceberg. Patients and their families know what’s underneath. Their first-hand experience is the equivalent of a university degree in that condition.

In the first decade of the 21st century patient- and family-centred care became the new “it” thing. Unfortunately, switching to this new model of care wasn’t without difficulties. Problems started to appear when health providers became fearful of saying anything that could be perceived as negative, oppositional to, or against patients and family members.

We were still in a unidirectional system of health. We’d simply switched from a clinical-led to a patient-led system, or from one extreme to the other. We needed something in-between. An approach that includes ALL voices. A people-centred approach.

We have an equation to illustrate what we mean:


Lived-experience expertise + Health care expertise = Safer and more inclusive care


In that spirit, Health Standards Organization (HSO) and Accreditation Canada (AC) adopted the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of people-centred care, which includes everyone in the continuum of care.

People-centred care: care that is focused and organized around the health needs and expectations of people and communities rather than on diseases. People-centred care extends the concept of patient-centred care to individuals, families, communities and society. Whereas patient-centred care is commonly understood as focusing on the individual seeking care — the patient — people-centred care encompasses these clinical encounters and also includes attention to the health of people in their communities and their crucial role in shaping health policy and health services. (Source)

In a people-centred circle of care, everyone is as important as anyone else. There is no hierarchy; everyone involved, from patients to doctors to families, social workers or spiritual advisors, contributes to a coordinated effort in the delivery of care and services.

As patients and families, there is another reason to prefer using people-centred care rather than patient-centred care: Patients should not be reduced to, or defined by, their disease, illness or condition. They are persons with individual preferences, needs and abilities, who are full partners in their care. They are people, not cases.

People-centred care goes beyond improving the quality and safety of health care. People-centred care is about everyone in the continuum of care having an equal voice.