I would like to share my response to a question I was recently asked regarding the involvement of patients, and potentially even their family members, in hospital improvement efforts. Can their perspective help?

My answer was a resounding YES! Just like with staff members and providers, patients and their family members should be considered for involvement in improvement efforts so long as they have something to contribute, as well as something to learn from the experience.

I’ve yet to see any formal programs in place or dedicated resources to coordinate with patients, and believe this would be cost prohibitive and impractical in all but the very largest hospitals and health systems. However, several of my clients informally ask former and current patients if they would be willing to volunteer a few hours of their time to provide input on improvement projects that will occur in the future.

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Some examples that jump immediately into my mind occurred when a patient or family member took extra time, both informally and in a formal survey, to provide good and bad feedback about the care they received. In those instances, a member of the executive team and/or the Director of the area receiving feedback reached out to those patients and family members to:

  1. thank them for taking time to provide input,
  2. explain what actions were being taken as a result of the feedback, and
  3. ask if they would be willing to share their perspectives with staff who are working to improve.

At any given time, these organizations have a handful of former patients and family members they can contact when the need arises to see if they are available to meet with staff during the course of an improvement effort. These organizations initially invited former patients to spend entire mornings or afternoons with project teams, but found that those folks became bored or distracted. They then invited former patients to come in for a few hours during lunch to learn what a specific project was attempting to accomplish and to provide their thoughts and feedback.

For Rapid Improvement Events (RIEs), this was typically done on the second or third day of an event so the former patients could see what work had been done and help shape the future state and countermeasures. This worked well, and the patients had nothing but positive things to say about these experiences. They were happy to help their hospitals improve.

On other occasions, more immediate input was needed from patients, so project team members rounded to patients to solicit their input. Patient feedback was recorded on blank sheets of paper for each question, and the patient input was categorized (things pertaining to the doctors, to nurses and other care givers, to the room itself, etc.) and analyzed. Again, this was not anything formal, but rather an ad-hoc need addressed on the spot. Rounding proved to be an excellent way to quickly solicit information from current patients. It also got a pulse on patient feelings, likes, and dislikes about both the organization and the care they were receiving.

Patients are a critical component of the overall system of care, and their perspectives could be invaluable when undertaking improvement efforts. You should definitely consider how to recruit and involve your patients in the improvement efforts being made by your organization.


Aaron Fausz, Director for Lean Healthcare and Process Improvement at HPPToday’s blog was written by Aaron Fausz, Senior Consulting Director.

Aaron brings more than 25 years of experience helping organizations align and improve their personnel and technical systems to accomplish strategic business objectives. He currently leads Lean transformation and process improvement consulting engagements for Vizient.

Aaron has consulted with leading healthcare organizations across the country, including Denver Health, Mayo Franciscan Health System, University Health Services, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System, and many others. His areas of expertise and professional skills include guiding organizations through strategically driven changes and enhancing business performance, with significant experience in needs assessment, best practice analysis, performance measurement, process improvement, and behavioral change management. He holds a Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee with a minor in Industrial Engineering.

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