Thursday, February 20, 2014

Councils offer patient perspective

Members of the Patient Family Advisory Council study a Continuous Quality Improvement daily management board on the third floor at Cox South. The council recently did a series of Gemba walks led by Scott Rogers, administrative director, organizational development, to see how departments approach performance improvement.

We see every day how complex health care is, with collaborating departments, complementary fields of practice and many experts required to care for those who need us. Ultimately, all the complexity, and all of our work, is in service of one thing: our patients.

We’re all striving for patient-centered care, but how do we really hear from patients and see things from their point of view? A new Patient Family Advisory Council (PFAC) is now formalizing that process, offering leaders and staff members access to a patient perspective. The council, now in place at Cox South and Cox Monett, is designed to give voice to patient concerns and to improve collaboration between caregivers, patients and families.

“Our goal is to create an environment where patients and family are seen as part of the care team,” says Jessica Lightfoot, Guest Services patient advocate and coordinator of the PFAC at Cox South. “We want open and honest communication – being willing to talk about opportunities for improvement is important for changing and improving the ways we provide care.”

The council was founded in April 2013 and is made up of participants – CoxHealth volunteers, employees and community members – who have been patients or patient family members. The group meets one evening per month to discuss issues affecting the patient experience and learn about efforts to improve care and service throughout the system.

The PFAC is a key resource for departments as they undertake projects that will affect patient care. Departments are able to seek the council’s input on a project; council members brainstorm possible approaches and then present solutions over the course of 2-3 meetings.

Lightfoot says that, so far, improving communication with patients has been a common theme. One recent example is a project in the CCU/MICU. The unit was working on new welcome information for patient families and approached the council for input. The PFAC reviewed the welcome packet – asking questions like: what information needs to be included? Is this presented in a way the average person can understand it?

All of those efforts to improve communication can help reduce the time staff members spend individually answering common questions.

The PFAC has partnered with leaders on the unit to help staff members coordinate their ongoing communication with families during a patient’s stay.

“Families need to know that we want to keep them in the loop of their loved one’s care, but every time we answer a phone inquiry about a patient, it takes away time from patient care,” Lightfoot says. The unit is currently tracking the volume of family phone calls on their Continuous Quality Improvement daily management board.

“We’re working to meet most family needs and still facilitate bedside care.”

At Cox Monett, the PFAC is similarly focused – their council has been working with administration to examine the communication the hospital provides to patients and visitors, with an eye toward making sure information is easy for patients and families to understand.

“We want to make sure patients have positive outcomes and communication is a big part of that,” says Leichelle Cotney, who coordinates the Monett PFAC. “And, for our members, the council gives them ownership in the hospital and the things going on here.”

The Monett council is currently working on a new patient handbook for the hospital and they’re advising on signs and wayfinding in the parts of the facility that are currently being renovated.

All of the projects, along with several more coming up in 2014, are small, coordinated steps in the ongoing pursuit of excellence. Improving patient care and customer service requires constant evaluation of how we’re doing and what we can be doing better. Lightfoot and Cotney agree that the councils are a key tool in making every patient’s stay the best it can be.

“We want to be the best. We’re doing a good job, but we can always do better,” Cotney says. “Any tool to help us meet that objective is to the benefit of everyone.”