Skip to main content

The true meaning of patient-centred care

In the ever-changing world of medicine, two Canadian health care leaders are shifting the focus back to where it belongs: patients. The result? It’s better for everyone involved.

On this episode of Boldly, we join Physician Leadership Institute faculty members Dr. Michael Gardam and Judith John to discuss patient-centred care. We delve into why this movement holds such promise for better health care in Canada for both patients and their providers.

Increasingly, physicians are discovering the importance of not just treating their patients’ symptoms―but also building compassionate partnerships with them.

Each of our guests learned the importance of building these doctor-patient relationships from personal experience: Ms. John as a long-term patient and Dr. Gardam as a physician. Now they both teach doctors that forging those relationships can not only make their jobs easier and more efficient― but can also help patients navigate some of the most challenging days of their lives.

Listen to learn how you create a more compassionate experience for your patients.

tweetable: “Everything is magnified as a patient. Every small gesture makes a difference.”

Key takeaways

Why focus on patient-centred care above other issues?

  • Working in a hospital, John felt she and her coworkers were doing their best to support patients―until she became a long-term patient. That’s the moment she realized there is significant room for improvement.
  • Dr. Gardam always felt that he practiced patient-centred care, but when he learned that physicians could be doing better, he wanted to be a lead the way.
tweetable: “I believe doctors go into this business – this profession – because they have a passion for helping people.”

What are some examples of poor patient-centred care?

  • John recalled an experience waiting for an MRI when a physician came out and addressed her not by name, but as “brain tumor.”
  • She once waited at a clinic for 5 hours and 22 minutes with no assistance or acknowledgment. When she brought this to a physician’s attention, they were oblivious.
  • A doctor and patient should find something they have in common besides the patient chart.
tweetable: “I would bet 90% of the issues that come to patient relations offices in hospitals, in particular, are related to bad communication.”

How can physicians be more personal with their patients?

  • Strike up a conversation and introduce yourself before diving into the heavy stuff.
  • Wait until you’re in the room before you begin going through their case.
  • Learn how to ask patients if they have more questions for you.
  • Don’t intimidate patients with your knowledge but let them know that information is available to them.
  • Remember: you can still care for patients even if you know you can’t cure them.
tweetable: “I believe there’s a big difference between caring for someone and curing someone.”

How can building a good partnership with patients make it easier to deliver bad news?

  • If your patient has a strong relationship with you, they will be more open to your expertise on the issue.
  • Building trust facilitates the process of following through on your recommended treatment decisions.
  • Every gesture of kindness makes your patient feel better.
tweetable: “We have to start over. We have to build some kind of relationship.”

How can physicians better share their expertise with patients?

  • Most issues in patient relations are due to poor communication.
  • It’s all about finding the most meaningful way to communicate with them.
  • You must treat each patient as an individua―and try to be there for them in the way they need.
tweetable: “It really is putting yourself in that situation, without getting destroyed by it.”

Recommended resources

Three skills doctors need today, a Boldly article on the importance of communication, coaching and teamwork for physicians.

What is patient-centered care?, a NEJM Catalyst article

What Putting Patients First Really Looks Like, a Harvard Business Review article by Ghazala Q. Sharieff

Identifying Canadian patient-centred care measurement practices and quality indicators: a survey, an article in CMAJ Open

Patient-Centred Care in Canada: Key Components and the Path Forward, a research summary of the patient care finding of the 2013–2014 and 2016 Health Care in Canada (HCIC) surveys (subscription or purchase required to view full article).

Patient-Centred Care, policy paper from the Ontario Medical Association



Never miss an episode by subscribing on SoundCloudiTunes and Spotify.

Are you making waves in innovation or have a bold idea to share? We would love to hear your story. Connect with us at to have your thoughts featured in a future podcast.

The opinions stated by podcast participants are made in a personal capacity and do not reflect those of the Canadian Medical Association and its subsidiaries, including Joule. Joule does not endorse any views, product, service, association, company or industry mentioned in this podcast.