Healthcare News & Insights

Use patients to improve hospital care: 5 keys

ThinkstockPhotos-460593267When it comes to improving patient safety and quality, hospitals have the option of creating partnerships with other healthcare providers and community groups. However, facilities can also boost their care by partnering with former patients.

Working closely with former patients and their families is an excellent way to develop policies that enhance quality of care. Picking the brains of people who’ve experienced a hospital stay takes some of the guesswork out of the process. They’ll have specific feedback about what worked and what didn’t.

Hospitals can use that knowledge to transform the way they treat patients, potentially boosting quality and improving performance in lowering readmissions and lifting satisfaction scores.

Creating a council

If you’d like to incorporate patient feedback into your own care practices, the American Hospital Association (AHA) recently released a report with guidance for putting the framework in place for a patient and family council. The council would regularly provide healthcare executives with advice for making improvements that patients and their families would appreciate.

Putting a patient-centered perspective on quality initiatives or other improvements can be beneficial. Whether a hospital is designing patient education materials or trying to improve its discharge process, hearing from patient representatives can give facilities needed perspective to move forward with changes.

In order for hospitals to get the most benefit out of establishing a patient and family council, it’s important to follow five key steps as stated by the AHA:

1. Recruit members

Typically, a patient and family advisory council is comprised of former patients, family members and hospital employees. And many times, the group meets to discuss a specific issue related to the patient experience.

To get the most diverse opinions on these councils, it’s important to recruit multiple people with varying expertise. While the focus of the council should be on making positive improvements, getting opinions from patients who had a negative experience with your facility can be valuable if they’re willing to participate.

It’s also a good idea to seek out patient-centered perspectives from experts in the area you’re discussing, even if they haven’t been patients at your specific hospital.

Example: If you want to enhance maternity care for low-income mothers, look for women in the community who run support groups for disadvantaged pregnant women. They’d be able to provide unique insight about the needs of those patients.

2. Prepare participants

After you’ve figured out who should participate on your advisory council, you need to brief the members about the topic at hand in terms of the hospital’s goals.

To get the best response out of the committee, you need to clearly define the hospital’s objective and its current plan for making improvements. That way, participants can offer targeted suggestions to improve the plan, instead of just general feedback.

Since the members of your council may not be as familiar with medical terms or the names of federal quality improvement programs, it’s also important to provide them with basic background material about these aspects of the process so they won’t get confused if the terms are mentioned in passing.

3. Shift your culture

None of the improvements suggested by the patient and family advisers can be implemented successfully if your facility isn’t committed to a culture where input from patients and other outside sources matters.

For starters, all hospital employees should be aware that you’ve established a patient and family advisory council, whether they participate on it or not. They should have a clear idea of the council’s role and why the feedback provided by its members is crucial to your facility’s bottom line.

Hospital staff must be open to the idea of change when it comes to incorporating the suggestions of your advisory council. They also need to feel comfortable with asking questions about any new policies – and even providing feedback of their own about whether certain changes are feasible.

4. Measure changes

Once policies are implemented based on the suggestions of patient and family advisers from the council, the real work begins.

The council should still be involved as the policies are put in place. Hospitals should continue to seek members’ input as time goes on. Certain ideas may not work as well in practice, and the council can help healthcare executives come up with alternatives that still keep patient preferences as top priority.

Facilities also need to continuously measure the impact any changes have on patient satisfaction, as well as how they help improve patient outcomes – particularly when it comes to quality and safety. Tracking this data will be helpful when it comes to pinpointing any adjustments that need to be made.

5. Sustain relationships

Keeping the lines of communication open with patient and family advisers is key to any initiative’s success, both during and after the initial implementation period.

Most members of your council won’t be on site at your hospital as new policies are implemented. So you’ll need to keep them in the loop, either through a representative on staff who communicates with them directly, or through other communication methods like email.

Council members should be updated on any new developments with your hospital’s initiatives or projects that they’ve helped develop. And facilities should make them aware of any upcoming projects as well.

Renewable resource

Ultimately, patients and their families shouldn’t be seen as “one-and-done” resources for hospitals. Instead, facilities should use them as a regular go-to resource whenever they’re thinking of making changes or updates to policies and procedures.

Creating an advisory council is an excellent start, but hospitals should also think of other ways to engage patients and incorporate their feedback into decisions – including the use of social media.

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