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Vagueness and variety in person-centred care

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Polly Mitchell, Alan Cribb, Vikki Entwistle

Original languageEnglish
JournalWellcome Open Research
Accepted/In press10 Jun 2022
Published16 Jun 2022

King's Authors


Person-centred care is a cornerstone of contemporary health policy, research and practice. However, many researchers and practitioners worry that it lacks a ‘clear definition and method of measurement,’ and that this creates problems for the implementation of person-centred care and limits understanding of its benefits. In this paper we urge caution about this concern and resist calls for a clear, settled definition and measurement approach. We develop a philosophical and conceptual analysis which is grounded in the body of literature concerning the theory and practice of person-centred care. We consider a range of influential definitional frameworks of person-centred care, highlighting their differences and showing that they do not correspond to a clearly circumscribed and consistent underlying concept. We argue that a degree of indeterminacy and vagueness should not be seen as a problem with the concept of person-centred care; these are features of a rich and contested concept which exists prior to and outside of practical and technical operational definitions and applications. We defend the value of operating with multiple accounts of person-centred care, arguing that what counts as being person-centred can vary across different care contexts, in relation to different patient groups, and as a reflection of different, defensible ethical perspectives. Although the idea of a single, agreed definition is attractive and may seem to be a practical or even necessary step towards meaningful and coordinated action, we argue that this is only the case in a qualified sense. Comprehensive attempts to narrow down the concept in this way should be resisted, as they risk undermining what it is that makes person-centredness a valuable concept in healthcare.

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