Aim. To identify the common, core elements of patient-centred care in the health policy, medical and nursing literature. Background. Healthcare reform is being driven by the rhetoric around patient-centred care yet no common definition exists and few integrated reviews undertaken. Design. Narrative review and synthesis. Data sources. Key seminal texts and papers from patient organizations, policy documents, and medical and nursing studies which looked at patient-centred care in the acute care setting. Search sources included Medline, CINHAL, SCOPUS, and primary policy documents and texts covering the period from 1990-March 2010. Review methods. A narrative review and synthesis was undertaken including empirical, descriptive, and discursive papers. Initially, generic search terms were used to capture relevant literature; the selection process was narrowed to seminal texts (Stage 1 of the review) and papers from three key areas (in Stage 2). Results. In total, 60 papers were included in the review and synthesis. Seven were from health policy, 22 from medicine, and 31 from nursing literature. Few common definitions were found across the literature. Three core themes, however, were identified: patient participation and involvement, the relationship between the patient and the healthcare professional, and the context where care is delivered. Conclusion. Three core themes describing patient-centred care have emerged from the health policy, medical, and nursing literature. This may indicate a common conceptual source. Different professional groups tend to focus on or emphasize different elements within the themes. This may affect the success of implementing patient-centred care in practice.