Patient-Centered Care and Autonomy: Shared Decision-Making in Practice and a Suggestion for Practical Application in the Critically Ill

Author Department

Patient Care Services; Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine

Document Type

Article, Peer-reviewed

Publication Date



Decision-making for the hospitalized dying and critically ill is often characterized by an understanding of autonomy that leads to clinical care and outcomes that are antithetical to patients' preferences around suffering and quality of life. A better understanding of autonomy will facilitate the ultimate goal of a patient-centered approach and ensure compassionate, high-quality care that respects our patients' values. We reviewed the medical literature and our experiences through the ethics service, palliative care service, and critical care service of a large community teaching hospital. The cumulative experience of a senior intensivist was filtered through the lens of a medical ethicist and the palliative care team. The practical application of patient-centered care was discerned from these interactions. We determined that a clearer understanding of patient-centeredness would improve the experience and outcomes of care for our patients as well as our adherence to ethical practice. The practical applications of autonomy and patient-centered care were evaluated by the authors through clinical interactions on the wards to ascertain problems in understanding their meaning. Clarification of autonomy and patient-centeredness is provided using specific examples to enhance understanding and application of these principles in patient-centered care.