Patient-centered care supports active involvement of patients and their families in the design of new care models and in decision-making about individual options for treatment. The IOM (Institute of Medicine) defines patient-centered care as: "Providing care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values, and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions."  Patient-centered care is also one of the overreaching goals of health advocacy, in addition to safer medical systems, and greater patient involvement in healthcare delivery and design. Given that non-consumer stakeholders often don't know what matters most to patients regarding their ability to get and stay well, care that is truly patient-centered cannot be achieved without active patient engagement at every level of care design and implementation.
The application of patient-centered care is often referred to simply as patient engagement or patient activation. 
These five attributes of patient-centered care are the following:
- "Whole-person" care.
- Coordination and communication
- Patient support and empowerment
- Ready access
Patient-centered care is about much more than simply educating patients about a diagnosis, potential treatment, or healthy behavior. It does not mean giving patients whatever they want; rather, patients want guidance from their care providers, but they expect that guidance to be provided in the context of full and unbiased information about options, benefits and risks. “Patient-centered” means considering patients’ cultural traditions, personal preferences and values, family situations, social circumstances and lifestyles, as used by the Institute of Medicine and Institute for Healthcare Improvement. A 2001 Institute of Medicine report identified a focus on patient-centered care as one of six interrelated factors constituting high-quality health care. Patient centered care leads to higher level of patient engagement. The 5 constituent dimensions of patient engagement include: communication, provider effectiveness, alignment of objective, information & encouragement, and patient incentive.  Engaged patients seem to have better perceived health outcomes. 
Don Berwick, formerly of IHI, defined patient-centered care as: The experience (to the extent the informed, individual patient desires it) of transparency, individualization, recognition, respect, dignity, and choice in all matters, without exception, related to one’s person, circumstances, and relationships in health care.
In its Declaration on Patient-Centred Healthcare, The International Alliance of Patients' Organizations (IAPO) states that the essence of patient-centered healthcare is that the healthcare system is designed and delivered to address the healthcare needs and preferences of patients so that healthcare is appropriate and cost-effective. The Declaration sets out five principles of patient-centered healthcare: respect; choice and empowerment; patient involvement in health policy; access and support and information.
- Institute on Medicine. "Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century". Retrieved 26 November 2012.
- Jo Anne L. Earp, Elizabeth A. French, & Melissa B. Gilkey: Patient Advocacy for Health Care Quality.
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- "What Every Provider Needs to Know About Patient Engagement". TechnologyAdvice. May 13, 2014.
- Bechtel, Christine. "If You Build it, Will They Come? Designing Truly Patient-Centered Health Care". Health Affairs. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
- Institute for Healthcare Improvement. http://www.ihi.org/IHI/Topics/PatientCenteredCare/PatientCenteredCareGeneral/
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- Berwick, Don. "What Patient-Centered Should Mean: Confessions of an Extremist". Health Affairs Web Exclusive. Retrieved 25 March 2011.
- Erik Cambria; Amir Hussain, Tariq Durrani, Catherine Havasi, Chris Eckl and James Munro (2010). "Proceedings of IEEE ICSP10".
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- International Alliance of Patients' Organizations (IAPO, 2006). "Declaration on Patient-Centred Healthcare". Retrieved 13 December 2011.