Navigating the Health Care System: Improving Health Care through Patient/Family-Centered Care


Harborview—well-known as a patient
care facility—also excels in teaching
and discovery.
Photo courtesy of Seattle

Municipal Archives.

Everyone has an idea about how to make health care safer, better and cheaper, but one of the best ideas is patient-centered care. Patients have always been at the center of the health care experience, but in the health care improvement world, "patient-centered care" means involving the patient as a partner in all aspects of the health care experience and understanding their individual preferences, needs, and values to improve the care we provide.

Patient/Family Centered Care at Harborview Medical Center

At Harborview, we want to provide care that is patient-centered as well as safe, effective, timely, efficient and equitable. We include family in our concept of patient-centered care because of the importance our patients place on the role their family and friends play in their health care experience. As part of our patient/family-centered care:

  • A welcoming environment promotes comfort and support, privacy and involvement of family and friends.
  • Patient and family knowledge, values, beliefs and cultural backgrounds are incorporated into the planning and delivery of care.
  • Patients and families are encouraged and supported in participating in care and decision-making as they choose.
  • Patients and families receive the information they need to effectively participate in care and decision-making.

The Patient's Part in Patient/Family-Centered Care

As a patient, how can you promote patient/family centered care?

  • Be involved: A key way to be involved in your care is asking questions and making sure that you understand the care options presented to you. This seems like a simple prescription but health discussions can be complicated, overwhelming and scary. The best providers listen as much as they talk so their patients feel comfortable enough to ask about everything on their minds.

    When asking questions, be honest and remember: no question is too small or unimportant. Repeat back to the provider what they said and take notes. Another key is following your care plan. Your provider can suggest the best treatment options for you, but success depends on how well you carry out the plan.
  • Be informed: Being informed about health care is both easier and harder in the age of the internet because there is so much out there to read. Start with your provider, who can give you the most personalized information about your health.

    All patients have access to their medical records and they can be a good source of information about your care plan. You should also understand any health insurance benefits that may impact your care plan.
  • Build a broad health care team: Call on a variety of health care providers and services to help you achieve your health care goals. Pharmacists are invaluable sources of information on medications and potential side effects. Physical therapists can give you helpful strategies for healthy activity. Transportation services provide access to medical services. And don't forget recreation centers and libraries—staying physically and mentally active promotes health and helps you remember you are more than just a patient.

—Tracey Gooding, Patient Relations, Harborview Medical Center

For more information about Harborview Medical Center, visit Patient and Family Resources, call 206-744-2000, or e-mail For help understanding your health insurance benefits, contact your insurance plan provider or the SHIBA (Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors) HelpLine at 206-727-6221.