In the emerging field of patient engagement there is considerable debate about what exactly to call it: patient engagement, consumer engagement, person-centered care, the list goes on. Regardless of the name, the key is to first and foremost recognize that a patient's health care isn't at the center of their universe. And if it is, then we have failed; we have taken the care out of health care.
When I was in college, I worked as a nursing assistant at the nursing home close to campus. During my training I was told to think of the residents as though they were family members. How would I want my grandmother or mother to be treated? I was assigned to work in the Special Care Unit, which is where the residents with dementia or Alzheimer's disease lived. I was nervous at first but quickly fell in love with all of them. I learned that in order to provide the best care possible I had to meet them where they were. For one lady, that meant waiting at the bus stop (a chair just outside the nurse's station) for Alice so they could go to the movie. For another, it was asking him where he put the library book that he was so desperate to return. Reorienting them to person, place and time was not helpful—it only caused more distress. In many cases, I became a long-lost daughter or childhood friend and that was OK. It was more than OK; it made them calmer, more relaxed. Outside of each room was a memory box filled with mementos and photographs from their past. The purpose was to help the residents find their rooms, but they served another purpose for me. Every time I entered the room I would pause, just for a few seconds, to look at their pictures. The pictures told so many stories of families, of professions, of sacrifices, of love. I could recall similar pictures of my grandparents and parents. The task of treating them like family was easy; in a short time, they were my family.