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Inger Ekman focuses on the person

To make a difference in healthcare, medical progress alone is not enough. New research shows that an undertaking of healthcare that focuses on the patient’s experience improves quality and reduces the care time. The formula is simple. Listen to the patients.

“Traditionally, patients are passive in their contact with healthcare. They receive care, they’re examined and treated. Here we stand for a radically different way of approaching the task,” says Inger Ekman, manager of Gothenburg Centre for Person-centred Care (GPCC), Europe’s only research centre of this kind.

The power of a garden
Person-centred care is about the patient being an active partner. The starting point is listening to the patient’s account. Based on this narrative and other investigations, the patient and the healthcare professional then formulate a plan together – for the course of care.

“In one of our studies, we interviewed a woman who was over the age of 90 and had suffered a fractured hip. It was spring and when asked what she most wanted to be able to do, she said she wanted to return to her garden. ‘Okay,’ said the interviewing nurse, ‘then we’ll make a plan with that as the goal.’

The old lady returned to her garden. In fact, nearly everyone in the test group was able to return home. Whereas in the control group, where they received traditional care, most were forced to move into a nursing home.”

From research project to reality
Since established in 2010, the Centre for Person-centred Care has worked systematically for research findings to be implemented in healthcare. One project of notability began at Sahlgrenska University Hospital. The results were so promising that the experiment has now been expanded to several wards. Resident Physician Elin Hultgren is one of those who participated and had a chance to try the person-centred approach.

“We notice that it works. The patients are in hospital substantially fewer days. The relatives are also very positive. None of us who work here want to go back to the old way of working,” explains Elin Hultgren.

Greatest impact where most needed
Inger Ekman believes that many people have an incorrect view of the hospital as a place where acutely ill people come in, are cured and go home.

“This is an image kept alive by TV series such as ER and Grey’s Anatomy, but it’s not accurate. In reality, most of the patients are elderly, fragile people, individuals with long-term and lasting symptoms. It’s here that the majority of healthcare resources are spent, and it’s in these very groups that our experiments have shown the best results.”

Patient empowerment – a trend growing from the grass roots
The person-centred care in Gothenburg is a part of an international wave where the patients are demanding participation and partnership. One current example is
the website patientslikeme.com, which was established by the brother of a young man with ALS who wanted to start a dialogue with other patients. The response was overwhelming. Today, the site has more than one million reports on patients’ conditions and researchers pay a lot to gain access to their data. Another example is the international movement ‘No decision about me, without me.’

This demands that the patient be an active participant in decisions on different forms of treatment.

“We are on the way to changing how we interact with patients in healthcare. But it will take time. There is a strong culture in healthcare and this is nothing you change overnight,” says Inger Ekman.

A good arena for clinical healthcare research
With an ageing population, finding new ways towards better health and shorter care times is a matter of global importance. GPCC is coordinating an EU project that is about preparing a road map for the healthcare of the future. When the Swedish government conducted a strategic survey in healthcare research, the University of Gothenburg – led by Sahlgrenska Academy – was deemed to have the greatest potential to develop the field.

“These are complex issues that concern various subjects such as economics, pedagogy, philosophy and ethics. The University of Gothenburg is skilled at clinical research, has good relationships with healthcare and, with its breadth, is well-equipped for the challenge,” says Inger Ekman.

Inger Ekman

PhD at Umeå University in 1999. Professor of Nursing at University of Gothenburg in 2007.

Selection of appointments and awards

GPCC conducts interdisciplinary research in person-centring in healthcare. More than 100 researchers and 30 doctoral students are affiliated with the centre, which is financed by the government and University of Gothenburg.

Contact Information

Contact details for Inger Ekman

Page Manager: Pontus Sundén|Last update: 8/8/2018

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