Table of Contents


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Considered a radical concept not so long ago, today patient-centered care is a core component of healthcare quality recognized by the Institute of Medicine.  In broad terms, patient-centered care is a model in which providers partner with patients and their families to identify and satisfy the full range of patient needs and preferences, while simultaneously supporting the professional and personal aspirations of their staff.  The adoption of the HCAHPS survey as a nationally standardized, publicly-reported standard for evaluating the patient experience has made implementation of a patient-centered approach a priority for countless healthcare leaders.  However, the reality is that, for many, the fundamentals of what it means to be patient-centered remain unclear, and many organizations struggle with how to actualize the concept into the day-to-day business of caring for patients and families. 

To address this widespread interest, Planetree joined forces with the Picker Institute to develop a resource that would translate patient-centered care from a nebulous concept into a concrete one.  Founded 30 years ago, Planetree is a not-for-profit organization that partners with healthcare organizations to transform organizational cultures and improve the patient experience; the Picker Institute is an international non-profit organization that supports research in the field of patient-centered care.

The new Patient-Centered Care Improvement Guide represents the culmination of this year-long collaboration.  It reflects the collective wisdom of organizations implementing patient-centered care at an advanced level, as well as the experiences of those whose efforts have been hindered by any number of barriers. 

Informed by a comprehensive analysis of patient focus group data compiled by Planetree, the Improvement Guide is organized around components of the healthcare experience that matter most to patients and families.  These findings confirmed that what is most important to them has little to do with the clinical, technological or scientific aspects of medicine.  These are taken for granted as minimum standards of care.  Far more meaningful―and memorable―are compassionate interactions, access to information, involvement of loved ones, a healing physical environment, and an approach that supports mind, body and spirit. 

The Improvement Guide features more than 150 specific practices for more effectively meeting the needs of patients, families and staff in these areas of particular significance.  These practices are supplemented with a self-assessment tool, a myths and facts section, strategies for using data and technology in a way that supports a patient-centered culture, a variety of implementation tools, and an appendix that draws connections between the HCAHPS domains and patient-centered practices. 

Fundamentally, patient-centered care is about organizational culture change, which requires a long-term commitment, alignment of an organization’s values, strategies and structures, and engaging the hearts and minds of those you work with and care for.  The Improvement Guide is a resource for this challenging and important work and can be used as a springboard for further innovation.


Named after the tree under which Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, taught his students in Ancient Greece, Planetree, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that partners with hospitals and other healthcare organizations to transform organizational cultures and improve the patient experience.

Planetree was founded in the late 1970s by Angelica Thieriot, a patient whose experiences with hospitals led her to envision a different type of healthcare experience where patients could receive quality care in a truly healing environment that would also provide them with access to the information needed to become active participants in their own care.

Based on focus groups with thousands of patients, family members and hospital staff members, Planetree has helped define what it means to be patient-centered by identifying core areas, elements and approaches, which are documented in the book Putting Patients First, the second
edition of which was released in October 2008.

Today, Planetree is a growing global membership network of acute care hospitals, continuing care facilities, ambulatory centers, community health centers and health libraries, representing nearly one million annual hospital admissions, 15 million annual outpatient visits, 100,000 births, and more than 110,000 health care professionals. There are Planetree sites in 32 U.S. states, Canada and the Netherlands. A complete list of Planetree members is available at

The Picker Institute

Picker Institute, Inc., based in Boston, Mass., with offices in Germany and Switzerland and a sister organization, Picker Institute Europe, in the UK, is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the advancement of patient-centered care and the improvement of the patient‘s experience and interaction with healthcare providers.

Established in 1994, Picker Institute pioneered the use of scientifically valid nationwide surveys and databanks on patient-centered care to educate doctors and hospital staff how to improve services to patients from a patient‘s perspective. As a result, the patient‘s perspective is now a
standard metric for measuring performance and used routinely by healthcare organizations worldwide.

Picker Institute has widened its focus to include a search for solutions as well as the measurement of the scope of the problem. Worldwide, Picker Institute promotes the advancement of patient-centered care through education programs, research grants, annual awards recognizing best practices, publications on patient-centered care topics, scientifically valid survey instruments and the maintenance of research databanks.

Education is a major component of the Picker Institute mission. The Picker Awards for Excellence in the Advancement of Patient-Centered Care were established in 2003 to honor people and organizations that have made significant contributions to advancing patient-centered care, and to highlight them as role models for others in the healthcare field.