Person-Centered Care: What It Really Means, And How Providers Can Maximize Their Potential


By Dylan Levene, Product Manager at Unite US

What is Person-Centered Care?

Person-centered care is a philosophy and approach to the delivery of health and human services that views the person as a true partner in their own care and considers all aspects of their lifestyle, goals, preferences, and values toward developing the most appropriate plan for their unique circumstances. Providers who use a person-centered approach recognize that all aspects of a person’s life are inter-connected and co-dependent, and this approach can help people to have positive control over their life and feel valued and supported by a web of relationships within their communities. (1)

Balancing Important To & Important For

One of the core person-centered skills providers can practice is sorting out what is important to the person being served, and also what is important for them, and then finding the balance between. (2)

We’ve all experienced a time when someone in our lives has a problem, and we can clearly see a solution. Though we may believe it is in their best interests, the person will not embrace and act on a solution if they don’t agree with or value it. Similarly, services delivered in such a way that they only address what is important for a person (e.g. issues of health and safety, or what others see as being important for the person) and ignore what is important to them, will likely be ineffective. These kinds of programs won’t help people to gain and maximize positive control over their lives, or help them in sustainable ways that work for their lifestyle. (3)

It’s an Industry Standard… In Theory

People who work at social services organizations often describe their organization and services as “person-centered,” “client-centered,” or “patient-centric.” They talk about their Individualized Service Plans, and how important it is that a person share in the development of their plan and the goals it contains. We’ve seen that providers actively strive to deliver a person-centered service experience. At the heart of what they do, providers aim to help people lead full and healthy lives, and most understand that a person-centered approach (if practiced diligently) can help the people they’re serving to achieve those outcomes. So in theory, person-centered care is simply a given for anyone in social services who has genuine respect and regard for the people they’re serving. If most of the industry agrees on this, why are so many service providers unable to achieve person-centered care in practice?

Technology, Systems, and Processes Impact the Practice of Person-Centered Care

Even the most well-intentioned providers are using technology, systems, and processes that prevent them from fully realizing their goals of person-centered service delivery. The technology an organization uses to manage caseloads, the systems used to route phone calls and schedule appointments, the way that information flows throughout the organization, and the set of data being collected about the person served – these are all examples of technology, systems, and processes that directly impact the way that services are delivered by an organization.

Many of the tools being used in social services today aren’t inherently bad tools, they just weren’t designed for person-centered care. In many cases, they weren’t designed for care at all! It’s no wonder that providers can’t reach their full potential when the tools that are meant to support their work actually make it more difficult.

Just as technology and processes can hinder person-centered care, they can also promote and reinforce it. A comprehensive solution designed for person-centered care can get an organization much of the way toward achieving their goals and improving the service experience of people in their care. While tools and technology will never replace the human element of providing care, they can optimize and enrich it. The tools an organization chooses to use define and reflect their values, and those values are reinforced with both staff and persons served every time someone interacts with those tools (think: all day, every day!).

Service Providers: If you describe your services as being person-centered, we challenge you to evaluate how your technologies, systems, and processes help or hinder your approach. If they hinder your approach, it may be time to assess tools and technology specifically designed for the person-centered care you aim to deliver.

1-3 This blog post includes person centered concepts, principles and materials used with permission from The Learning Community for Person Centered Practices. Find out more at


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