Like many retired people who find themselves with a couple of chronic health conditions, I began getting much more familiar with healthcare professionals.
When I moved to a new area and had to find a new set of providers, I was surprised to find myself facing consistently long waiting times (over an hour) across many different providers and services. When I observed that the wait times seems rather long, the response was always, “we’re busy.” My patience wore thin, so I found the CEO’s email and wrote him. I described my experiences, observed that it seemed to be a systemic problem, and offered to talk with others about my experience and do anything I could to help.
A few weeks later I got a phone call asking me to be a patient advisor. I had never heard of such a thing, had no idea what an advisor did, and knew nothing about patient and family centered care. After a brief orienting discussion I agreed to come to the meetings to see what being an advisor was all about and whether I might be able to contribute.
The first couple of years I mostly just listened and asked questions to try to better understand the organization and the issues. Over time, I began to make suggestions. Remarkably, most suggestions were either received favorably or I got a fairly clear explanation of the context that would make action on them difficult or impossible. I was being listened to and my perspective valued.
I began to be asked to join other advisory groups or special projects, and witnessed how patients partnered in making improvements to how care was provided. For example, all building and renovation projects went forward only after a patient advisor signed off on the plan—and the plans were frequently altered by patient suggestions. Patients were given final choice in a major new bed purchase. We redesigned the physician’s bill and played a central role in defining new wayfinding systems. And the list goes on…
As more patient advisory groups were created, we noted that the mission and organization of the different groups was becoming a bit muddled—so we were given the task of redesigning the entire patient advisory system. Patients were added to quality and safety committees and root cause analysis teams. We began to participate in interviews for hiring and presentations at new employee orientations. Patients and family members were asked to “teach” medical students about their experiences and desires for their care. In fairly short order, patients and/or family members were expected to be a voice at the table for nearly all consequential decisions.
Out of that work, I have been asked to be a patient advisor for a state hospital association, do national and international training at other hospitals, do many presentations about our work, and become involved with several projects with national organizations like the Institute of Medicine.
Over the 10 years I have spent as a patient advisor, the role and value of patient engagement has become clear. In my role as an advisor, I have had an influence on patient care, organizational change and improvement, and institutional policies and procedures. I have been able to become not just a voice at the table, but in a real sense a colleague in improving the quality of healthcare.
David Andrews has been a patient advisor at Georgia Regents Medical for nine years, where he has been involved in nearly every facet of operation of the hospital. He is also a patient advisor to the Georgia Hospital Association Hospital Engagement Network. More recently, he has participated in several national projects to increase and improve patient engagement. Before retiring, he was a college professor in New Hampshire.