Center for Bioethics Papers

Document Type

Journal Article

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Publication Source

Academic Medicine





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The recent movement to provide “patient-centered care” has been hailed as a progressive step forward in meeting the needs of the very diverse patient population of the United States. The focus on patient-centered care has been embraced at all levels of American medicine: professional organizations, public advocacy groups, hospital administrators, medical school leadership, insurance carriers, and nursing schools. But while the ideal of patient-centered care is universally endorsed, the ethical obligations it entails have only begun to be explored. One of the most difficult circumstances in which to provide patient-centered care is in deep cultural conflict, where the values and priorities of the patient are in direct opposition to those of the clinical team. Given the mandate to provide care that is “culturally and linguistically appropriate,” the author asks what obligations providers have to meet patient demands when it is inconvenient, challenging, or, at the extreme, offensive and antithetical to mainstream values. Bariers are examined that patient-centered care in such cases is disruptive to the work-flow of the service, requires acknowledgement of illegitimate values, or entails discriminatory practices that constitute a personal insult or affront to the provider. The strategy invoked for this analysis is a search for common values that might provide a bridge between patients and providers in deep cultural conflict. The author concludes by responding to these important barriers to providing patient-centered care.


This is a non-final version of an article published in final form in Academic Medicine, 87, 1, 20-24, 2011.


bioethics, clinical ethics, medical ethics



Date Posted: 02 December 2016

This document has been peer reviewed.