Over the recent holiday, I came across a Wall Street Journal article about hospital patient and family advisory councils and it was music to my ears! The article described how patients and families, through these councils, become part of the health care team at the organizational level. The article stated that patients “are being recruited for patient and family advisory councils to work on projects and policies along with hospital staff, weighing in on matters ranging from the design of hospital rooms to improving communication with nurses, and even tagging along with doctors on their rounds.”
However, patients and families can do more than provide feedback on patient experience issues. They can actively work on safety concerns such as patient falls, early mobility of patients, hand hygiene compliance, and medication safety. What is so powerful about getting the patient and family perspective on safety issues is that they are giving insights about the care they received, as opposed to relying on the healthcare professional’s view of the care they gave. This makes their feedback tremendously valuable for helping hospitals pinpoint specific behaviors and processes they could improve.
The article goes on to note that hospitals are slow to adopt this patient engagement strategy, but patient and family councils are growing in popularity as they prove their value time and time again. Maine Coast Memorial Hospital (Ellsworth, ME) realized this first hand when their newly formed patient advisory council joined forces with their staff workgroup to help reduce falls in their hospital.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) understands the power of patient and family engagement and is connecting patients and families to federal health care improvement initiatives such as the Partnership for Patients (PfP), a public-private partnership working to improve the quality, safety and affordability of health care.
In December, I attended the CMS Quality Conference, along with more than 2,000 fellow health care professionals, where the message about patient and family engagement, specifically through advisory councils, was received loud and clear – in order to improve the health care system, patients and family members must be included as part of the team doing the work.
During the Quality Conference, I was fortunate to have dinner with several incredible people who have had a positive effect on the health care system despite their struggles with it, including the tragic loss of loved ones; Bob and Barb Malizzo, Chrissie Blackburn and Armando Nahum. I was in awe of their strength and tenacity. It’s people like them who provide the impetus health care professionals need to speed the rate of health care improvement and reduce patient harm.
For example, after grieving the loss of their son Josh in 2006 from a hospital-acquired infection, Armando and his wife Victoria started Safe Care Campaign and worked relentlessly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce these types of infections. The Nahums furthered their work and partnered with seasoned health care professionals Martin J. Hatlie, JD and Timothy McDonald, MD to form the Healthcare and Patient Partnership Institute (H2Pi).
As part of this most recent work with H2Pi, Armando coaches hospitals to implement patient and family councils that are squarely focused on improving quality and safety, including over a dozen of our member hospitals as part of the PfP. Armando’s message of patient safety and patient and family engagement has an amazing effect on hospital leaders and staff. I am proud to know and work with him.
There are amazing people like Armando across the country who have made meaningful contributions to their community hospitals, sometimes in the face of incredible adversity and other times out of a sense of gratitude for receiving excellent care. All of these people want the same thing – to make their hospital the best it can be.
Patients and family members want to help the health care system improve. Health care leaders need to open their doors, invite these patients and family members in, and then, most importantly, listen and act on the feedback they provide.
About the author. As in her role as director, HIIN delivery, Goodson leads programs to implement patient and family councils that work on patient safety and quality issues in member hospitals in partnership with patient safety experts and advocates such as H2Pi.