In 2008, the National Quality Forum declared patient and family engagement to be one of six national priorities to eradicate disparities, reduce harm, and remove waste from the U.S. health system. The study discovered that patient-centered care demonstrated a positive impact on patient satisfaction, length of stay, and cost per case.
But what does patient and family engagement really mean? Essentially, it comes down to the basics of improving communication between patients and providers at the bedside or institutionally through committees focused on systemic changes in patient care. Patients who are well informed of their medical condition are more likely to comply with their provider’s recommended treatment. Additionally, the more patients and families are informed and educated, the more likely they are to take an active role in health care decision making, especially when faced with multiple treatment options.
Last month, the NAPH Safety Network held a webinar focused on patient and family engagement, which highlighted efforts underway at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center and Health Centers. Contra Costa CEO Anna Roth, RN, MS, MPH discussed how patient and family engagement is a critical ingredient to improve and transform the medical system. Roth explained that “involving patients and families offers us new ideas, passions, and insights to transform health care.” She emphasized that there is no right time to initiate change – a hospital can plan and aim for the perfect time, but the right thing to do is to just begin. She closed her discussion with three key steps to initiate engagement in hospital systems:
- Be Bold – include patients and families at the tables of wherein hospital decision-making hospitals decisions are made;
- Be Clear – set deadlines, communicate these deadlines, and be accountable; and
- Be Brave – new power, new leaders, and new examples help grow the system.
Providing the patient perspective, mother and patient advocate Teresa Pasquini told the story of her 30-year-old son, who has a serious mental illness known as schizoaffective disorder. Pasquini discussed her life-changing experiences as a mother and those of her son, who has been hospitalized more than 30 times and has been in and out of emergency rooms and locked facilities over the past 14 years. She described how difficult it was to navigate the health system just to get help. “I had to become my son’s case manager, a special education advocate, and a mental health system expert to save his life.” Her experience brought her to a Contra Costa Kaizen event, where she shared her story. Pasquini now is committed to helping Contra Costa make positive systemic changes.
The event also featured Paul Levy, former CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who offered words of advice in response to Roth and Pasquini’s testimonials. Following the webinar, Levy wrote an in-depth reflection of the discussion on his personal blog, “Not Running a Hospital.” Levy’s article asserts that hospitals need patients and families to voice their experiences and concerns to help improve the health system for all.
Over the next few months the NAPH Safety Network will provide webinars and educational materials that will focus on patient and family engagement. Our goal is to find effective strategies and to help NSN and NAPH hospitals learn and adopt them to improve health care quality.