In patient experience, all voices are valuable

I recently had the privilege of attending the inaugural Patient and Family Engagement Summit hosted by the North Carolina Quality Center (NCQC). I also must share I was honored to serve as the closing speaker to end the conference day. What was powerful and unique about the summit was not simply its focus on patient and family engagement and experience, but the fact that its participants represented the very audience of this critical work.

This idea is fundamental to success in experience work. What it underlines is that there is power in gathering--in bringing together the key voices of this work to have a dialogue. We cannot and must not fear the power of all voices coming together. In fact, this is the only way in which we can create the greatest change and drive the best in outcomes in our work.

What my visit to the summit revealed was that in the power of gathering we find kindred spirits, fellow learners, experts from which we can glean nuggets for action or strategic inspiration. I also saw that we have the opportunity to hold these similar conversations in our various geographies--be they statewide, regionally or even in individual cities. In bringing together the voices of those providing and those receiving care, we hold a space in which issues can be raised, ideas formulated and opportunities for action realized. This is the essence of community, through which we can shift the patient experience conversation fundamentally.

The power of patient and family voice

While for me the commitment to holding a gathering of this type may be a central lesson learned from this experience, as a participant in the event I was also able to listen to and engage with a variety of voices. In almost every session the voice of the patient and/or family adviser was present, adding a level of dimension often not found at healthcare conferences. While a novel concept in some ways, it must be a fundamental concept moving forward, and the summit reinforced this idea beautifully. How are we engaging our own patient and family members in learning at the local level? Does training in your organization include these voices in your work? If not, when will you start?

As more organizations identify the inclusion of patient and family voices as critical, we find more searching for answers on how to do it effectively. The increased activity was quantified in the findings of our State of Patient Experience research in which we saw significant growth in the use of patient and family voice, specifically via councils and in formal advisory roles, over the last two years. At The Beryl Institute, we have been operating with the guidance of our Global Patient and Family Advisory Council now for two years, and NCQC itself took a stand last year in establishing its own Patient and Family Advisory Council; the first statewide council of which I am aware. This is a trend that we cannot and must not ignore.

But what does this idea call us to do? What does ensuring that patient and family voices matter encompass? Some of the key lessons I gained from the summit included:

  1. We must tackle the opportunity of engaging patient and family voice with unwavering commitment at all levels.
  2. Leadership, while perhaps not the catalyst for engaging patient and family voice, must provide the ongoing support and resources to ensure sustained success.
  3. Advisers can play a role in any aspect of the organization you can imagine, and the willingness to be “vulnerable” as an organization gives us the greatest opportunity for positive impact and desired improvement.
  4. Consider starting with proof of concept, i.e., where can we find that opportunity to show value quickly?
  5. In almost every instance, culture not only plays a factor in how patient and family advisers are engaged, but in the inverse PFAs also play a critical role in helping shift organizational culture.
  6. As we stress that patient experience is a macro opportunity in general, so too is the engagement of patients and families.

It may be no simpler, yet as complex as that. If we see our commitment to patient experience as what encompasses healthcare, not an initiative within it, then we have established the strongest path to success. Engaging the voices of those we serve in healthcare is not a question. We must find the determination to acknowledge that all voices matter--and act.

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