People-centred healthcare: What empowering policies are needed

Director General, National Board of Health and Welfare, Sweden

©National Board of Health and Welfare, Sweden

The word “patient” comes from Latin, and means “the one that suffers”. Healthcare has historically been about “taking care” and “protecting” the patient that suffers. Under this view the patient is more or less helpless. The healthcare professional on the other hand plays the dominant role, as an authority, to be heeded and obeyed. This attitude is all too prevalent today, in that the passive patient is not seen as having useful knowledge or capacities, and so must wait patiently for the doctors’ orders. 

With people-centred care comes a new, fresher attitude and perspective, which highlight the patients’ capabilities, knowledge and own value-setting. This shift understands that the patient is a person with a unique life and wishes. It helps both carer and cared for alike. Seeing the patient as an active person encourages professionals working in the healthcare sector to create a partnership. Professionals will become more like consultants, and pedagogical skills will be needed. Professionals will seek a relationship with patients, which is based on respect as equals, with an equal access to and possession of knowledge of different kinds.

A patient, or rather a person, cannot be reduced to a disease. People-centred healthcare means that health and capabilities are in focus. How you manage your own life, how you maintain your health, how you function though having pain and, of course, how you might be treated, get better and improve your health. Only this way can the term “healthcare” really mean what it says. Health is in focus, but so are patients, who no longer just consume care but help to produce better health and wellness, too.

So what can policymakers do to help? Patient-centred care means changing relationships, which is not easy to do. After all, patients have traditionally tended to look to doctors to cure them, and in return, doctors and other healthcare professionals see patients as clients. To transform this, it is important to provide tools that make it easy and inviting to become an active, or indeed, proactive patient. Such tools include information, creating more opportunities to co-decide, and a respectful way of listening and learning from the patient, as well as clearly acknowledging that patients have active roles and responsibilities within healthcare. The 2015 Swedish Patient Act states the healthcare sector has a responsibility to invite the patient into such a partnership. The Act empowers the patient.

Another action is the use of patient-reported measures as a support for improving the outcomes of the health care sector. Patient-reported measures, such as being able to function in your daily life, level of independence, being able to cope with your pain often focus minds on other issues than medical outcomes. It gives us a broader perspective on health and well-being.

The digital world, which is largely driven by the public, and that also means by the patients, can open new ways for patients to research, promote, and improve access to new innovative ways of delivering healthcare support and services. One example is cognitive behavioural therapy that has been launched over the internet in Sweden. Another example is our youth-clinic online that has been successful in reaching out to boys in particular.

Finally, the Swedish rheuma-registry offers further evidence that for successful approaches to healthcare, an active patient, patient-reported measures and an equal partnership work.

Twitter @OWigzell 


Visit the National Board of Health and Welfare website at

Internet Psychiatry website at

The Swedish rheuma-registry at

Youth clinic online at

©OECD Observer No 309 Q1 January 2017

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019

OECD Observer Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Subscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To order your own paper editions,email

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • MCM logo
  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2019