Fostering patient-centredness by following patients outside the clinical setting: an interview study

Christel Grau Canét-Wittkampf, Charlotte Eijkelboom, Saskia Mol, University Utrecht, Iris Hendriks, Esther de Groot

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BACKGROUND: Patient-centredness is considered a core competency for health professionals. To support faculty in designing courses focused on patient-centredness, an understanding of how educational interventions lead to patient-centredness is required. This study aims to show how learning mechanisms, which potentially contribute to patient-centredness, are triggered.

METHODS: Thirty-five third-year medical students at the UMC Utrecht followed four different patients for two years. The intervention took place in an out-of-hospital setting. Students visited patients in their home circumstances and accompanied them to clinical events. Twelve students were interviewed. The realist approach was used to construct configurations which relate components of the intervention to the context and learning mechanisms.

RESULTS: Following patients in their home circumstances for a prolonged period supported the development of meaningful relationships between students and patients and provided continuity. In the context of a meaningful relationship and continuity, mechanisms contributing to learning patient-centredness were triggered. The most important learning mechanisms found in this study were: reflecting, contextualising disease in a real persons' life, broadening perspectives and engaging with the patients.

CONCLUSIONS: Learning mechanisms are triggered by continuity and by meaningful student-patient relationships. These can be enhanced by an out-of-hospital setting and longitudinal contact. Thus, a relationship between students and patients is an important enabler for the development of patient-centredness.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2020


  • Interview study
  • Longitudinal integrated clerkship
  • Patient-centredness
  • Qualitative research
  • Realist approach


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