For health care practitioners, high-quality care and positive patient experiences are priorities. Although health care consumers (i.e., patients) share these priorities, they may not realize their potential impact to help shape care delivery for the better. The patient’s voice is critical to the improvement process.
Think of health care as a two-way street. The provider employs best practices and industry knowledge to achieve the best clinical results. Without the patient’s perspective on what’s working and where opportunities for improvement may exist, patient-centered care is not possible.
What is important to you when you receive medical care? Clinical skills and outcomes are very important of course, but for many of us, how we are treated – our overall experience – is paramount.
At my organization, for example, we have robust programs to engage patients and their loved ones online, in person and by phone as we constantly strive to enhance quality, safety and the care experience. Patients and their families are encouraged to serve as volunteers in a variety of support roles and they are recruited to participate alongside physicians, nurses and other team members in our many improvement workshops.
Since opportunities for patient involvement likely vary by hospital or health organization, a first step for individuals is to ask their provider or the hospital’s patient relations department about available programs that engage patients and their families for ideas and feedback. These might include completing a patient satisfaction survey, attending forums, participating in improvement workshops or reviewing patient-education materials.
Here are a few examples of how consumers can help improve health care:
Serve as the Patient Voice at Workshops
Many health systems conduct workshops, staff meetings and other forums to evaluate what’s working well and what’s not. These sessions troubleshoot, train and educate team members on specific operations and approaches for improving care delivery. Often, the patient experience is a core theme and it is critical to have one or more patients at the table. Including the patient as a team member with the organization’s decision makers, doctors and nurses empowers patients to help drive needed changes.
Volunteer to Review Materials
When organizations are developing educational materials or redesigning websites, involving patients in the review process helps ensure the focus remains on the ultimate benefits to the patient. Patients should be welcomed to review print and online information for simplicity and clarity. Is the information understandable? Is the new web portal intuitive and easy to navigate?
At my organization, patients helped us develop a resource for providers to aid them in delivering difficult news to patients and families about a health condition, diagnosis, etc. It contains 10 tips doctors and nurses can use to make the best of these hard conversations from the patient’s perspective. The tips include: “Tell us bad news the way you would tell your loved ones;” “Become an advocate for us immediately and make the necessary follow-up appointments – Don’t make us wait or navigate the bureaucracy on our own;” and “Tell us if there is anything positive about treatments for our disease.” How bad news is delivered does make a difference.
Be a Peer-Partner to a Current Patient
Serving as a volunteer “peer-partner” to another patient means you’ve experienced what he or she is going through, such as hip replacement surgery, and are willing to share your story to inspire the other individual’s journey to recovery. As you can imagine, talking with someone who’s already gone through the surgery and post-surgery rehabilitation eases anxiety and offers some peace of mind.
We have a program like this at our organization that was created with suggestions from and participation by our orthopedic surgery patients. They let us know that while the clinical care and information from their surgeon, nurses and other members of the care team was excellent, their overall experience would have be enhanced by heart-to-heart conversations with someone who had the same surgery and is doing well. Now, individuals who undergo hip or knee replacement can volunteer to return to our hospital and have bedside chats with other patients. For individuals facing an orthopedic procedure and rehab, these conversations are proving to be helpful and motivational.
We in health care must view patients and their families as our partners and design care delivery processes based on their needs and recommendations. Certainly, we will remain focused on quality, safety and good clinical outcomes, but many consumers take for granted that hospitals track quality and safety metrics. For many, the experience they have when they receive care is the most significant differentiator among health care providers.