Patient ownership is an important element of physicians’ professional responsibility, but important gaps remain in our understanding of this concept. We sought to develop a theory of patient ownership by studying it in continuity clinics from the perspective of residents, attending physicians, and patients.


Using constructivist grounded theory, we conducted 27 semi-structured interviews of attending physicians, residents, and patient families within two pediatric continuity clinics to examine definitions, expectations, and experiences of patient ownership from March–August 2019. We constructed themes using constant comparative analysis and developed a theory describing patient ownership that takes into account a diversity of perspectives.


Patient ownership was described as a bi-directional, relational commitment between patient/family and physician that includes affective and behavioral components. The experience of patient ownership was promoted by continuity of care and constrained by logistical and other systems-based factors. The physician was seen as part of a medical care team that included clinic staff and patient families. Physicians adjusted expectations surrounding patient ownership for residents based on scheduling limitations.


Our theory of patient ownership portrays the patient/family as an active participant in the patient–physician relationship, rather than a passive recipient of care. While specific expectations and tasks will vary based on the practice setting, our findings reframe the way in which patient ownership can be viewed and studied in the future by attending to a diversity of perspectives.

Learn more on “It is you, me on the team together, and my child”: Attending, resident, and patient family perspectives on patient ownership via Perspectives on Medical Education.

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