What Is Family-Centered Care?

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A family nurse practitioner meets with a parent and child.

A 2020 World Health Organization report indicates that nursing is the largest occupational segment in health care, representing 59% of all health professions. Additionally, nurses have topped Gallup’s list of most trusted professionals in the United States nearly every year for more than two decades.

The outsized role nurses play in providing care, coupled with the trust they inspire, makes their communication with patients, families and other health care professionals a critical component of providing safe and effective medical treatment. Nurses must establish meaningful engagement with patients and families about health conditions and preventive care — and they must do so in an informative and easy-to-understand way.

Effective communication with patients, families and other medical professionals facilitates shared decision-making, improves patient motivation and enhances health outcomes. It’s a critical part of an approach known as family-centered care, which focuses on the partnership among health care professionals, patients and families during treatment and recovery.

Aspiring nursing leaders can learn about this holistic health care method that’s critical to advanced practice nursing through training and education such as a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) degree program.

Family-Centered Care at a Glance

What is family-centered care? In short, according to the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care (IPFCC), it’s an approach in which health care providers work “with” patients and families instead of simply doing something “to” or “for” them.

In family-centered care, a health care provider considers treatment options by working not only with other members of a medical team but also with the patient and their family. This type of care factors in the strengths and needs of the patient, the patient’s family and the broader community. Based on mutually beneficial partnerships, family-centered care differs from health care delivery that focuses more on the preferences and needs of the health care professional in caring for patients.

By encouraging patients to take an active role in their treatment, family-centered care aims to enhance quality of care, psychological well-being, clinical outcomes, and the overall patient and family experience. This model builds on early approaches to care, which often centers on families providing in-home care for those who needed it.

Family-Centered Care in Action

Before hospital-based care for newborns and their mothers was common, most babies were born at home, under the care of their mothers and midwives. For preterm babies, in particular, survival rates were unpredictable. As technology advanced and more newborns and their mothers received hospital care, neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) began to provide the preterm infant care that previously had largely been the responsibility of family members.

Despite its effectiveness, this increased reliance on medical technology led to a decrease in the ability of parents to engage in the care of their infants. Today’s reemergence of family-focused treatments recognizes the important role of parents and other family members — alongside health care providers — in providing high-quality care and addressing patient needs.

Family-centered care is emerging as a preferred approach to health care delivery, both by medical professionals and families.  that area of medicine is not alone in following this approach to providing care. Treatment related to issues such as end-of-life care, early childhood concerns, and drug and alcohol abuse increasingly recognizes the value of family-centered care.

At inpatient health care facilities, for example, family-centered care involves patients and families in discharge planning. It calls for patients and families to share concerns and discuss their comfort with providing care for their loved one.

Psychiatric-mental health care, to give another example, incorporates family-centered care by encouraging patients and families to take an active role with health care professionals in developing treatment plans and goals. Family members also receive professional support for their role in facilitating the patient’s recovery.

The Core Concepts of Family-Centered Care

Nurses play a prominent role in providing care and interacting with patients and families — and nursing leaders help direct the success of those efforts. In fact, for advanced practice nurses such as nurse practitioners, patient- and family-centered care is at the heart of what they do. Therefore, nursing leaders especially benefit from understanding the concepts behind family-centered care.

In answering the question “What is family-centered care?” nursing professionals should note the following key components of this approach to treatment.

Respect and Dignity

Family-centered care calls for health care professionals to treat patients and their families with respect and dignity. It allows patients to decide which of their family members can collaborate on treatment planning and implementation, and it encourages them to participate at the level they choose. Medical professionals’ work with patients and families honors racial, ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic diversity, as well as different experiences and attitudes about health care.


In family-centered care, health care providers share timely, honest and unbiased information with families on an ongoing basis — and they do so in ways that are useful and support the needs of patients and families. This open communication helps to develop patients’ and family members’ expertise regarding the condition that’s affecting the patient, allowing them to be important contributors in decision-making and care.


Recognition of the strengths of patients and families is another cornerstone of family-centered care. The approach identifies patients’ and families’ ability to address medical concerns. It builds on their strengths by calling on those abilities for assistance with treatment, even in the midst of difficult and challenging situations.

Collaboration Across Providers

Family-centered care encourages health care professionals, patients and families to collaborate in planning and providing care at a health care facility, when possible, and after the patient is discharged. It also calls for this teamwork in other health care efforts, such as:

  • Policy and program development, implementation and evaluation
  • Research
  • Health care facility design
  • Professional education

The Benefits of Family-Centered Care

Patients and families can gain a variety of benefits from family-centered care, but they’re not the only ones for whom this approach can offer advantages. Health care professionals, including nurse practitioners and medical administrators, also can benefit from family-centered care.

Benefits for Patients and Families

Family-centered care can build positive health care experiences for patients and families. This type of care can offer benefits such as:

  • Feeling of empowerment in planning and providing care
  • Strengthened trust in health care providers
  • Improved sense of well-being through the support of care providers
  • Stronger recovery and less likelihood of recurrence
  • Confidence in expressing opinions and values

Benefits for Health Care Professionals

The communication and collaboration that family-focused care entails offer the potential for advantages to health care providers and the medical facilities where they work. This approach can provide the following benefits, among others:

  • Fewer conflicts and enhanced morale, resulting from open communication
  • Greater patient retention, thanks to improved patient satisfaction
  • Decreased chance for medical malpractice lawsuits, a benefit of clearer communication
  • Increased insurance reimbursement, based on patient satisfaction levels

Providing an Advanced Level of Care

Family-centered care’s emphasis on communication and collaboration among health care professionals, patients and families makes it the type of holistic approach that’s the cornerstone of advanced nursing care.

Find out how you can partner with patients and families to provide high-quality care by pursuing a University of North Dakota online M.S.N. Our convenient, flexible curriculum focuses on preparing nursing leaders to work alongside patients and families from diverse populations to address patient needs and promote their well-being. The program features concentrations for aspiring family nurse practitioners and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners.

Discover how the University of North Dakota’s online M.S.N. program can help you pursue your professional goals.


Recommended Readings

Essential Nursing Skills for MSN Students

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Nursing?

How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner


American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Practitioners in Primary Care

Birth Defects Research, “The Evolution of Family-Centered Care: From Supporting Parent-Delivered Interventions to a Model of Family Integrated Care”

BMC Health Services Research, “Towards a Universal Model of Family Centered Care: A Scoping Review”

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, “The Importance of Family-Centered Care”

Gallup, “U.S. Ethics Ratings Rise for Medical Workers and Teachers”

HIPAA Journal, “Communication in Nursing

Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care, Patient- and Family-Centered Care

Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care, Patient- and Family- Centered Care Defined

International Journal of Caring Sciences, “Enhancing Patient- and Family-Centered Care: A Three-Step Strengths-Based Model”

Relias, “Nursing Leadership: What Is It and Why Is It Important?”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Person- and Family-Centered Care and Peer Support

World Health Organization, State of the World’s Nursing 2020