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6 Steps to Improving the Patient, Family Engagement Process

Implementing patient and family engagement strategies will require healthcare organizations undergo a culture shift.

As patient and family engagement continue to be key measures of quality care and a humanistic imperative for clinicians, most practices will need to undergo a practice culture shift.

Healthcare professionals detail the importance of driving culture change to facilitate a better patient experience in a new guide published by the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative, the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care, and Planetree.

“Your culture shapes how patients, family members, and staff experience the office,” the report said. “And, emerging research demonstrates that practices with a patient-centered culture achieve better health outcomes for patients.”

The three organizations offered six steps to driving an organizational culture change and improving patient engagement and family engagement. Culture change affects all stakeholders in a healthcare organization – practice leaders, clinicians, staff, patients, and family – and therefore will require efforts from all parties.

Engage leaders

Organization leaders are in charge of setting the tone for the entire hospital or practice culture shift, the report said. Leadership spearheads initiatives that weave patient and family engagement into all aspects of care, and foster a supportive environment for clinicians and staff adjusting to workflow and practice changes.

Leaders should start culture change by taking self-assessments, the report noted. From there, leaders should work to support their weaknesses.

Once the practice begins its patient and family engagement strategies, clinical leaders must ensure that all clinicians and staff are informed of initiative goals and protocol.

Enlist patients and families as partners

Efforts to improve patient and family engagement will hinge on consulting with consumers. Healthcare organizations must gather input from patients and families to determine both parties’ needs, where there are care gaps, and opportunities for improvement.

Clinical leaders and staff cannot simply set their own agendas, lest they misunderstand what patients want from their own healthcare, the guide said.

Healthcare organizations can leverage focus groups, improvement teams, patient experience surveys, and patient and family advisory councils to gather patient input.

Organizations can also instruct one staff member to conduct patient and family interviews during waiting room time, the guide suggested. Staff members can format interviews to gather what patients would like the practice to do that it is not already doing.

Empower and energize staff

Healthcare organizations must also drive staff and clinician buy-in. Clinical leaders should create a sense of purpose, and ensure that none of the patient engagement strategies seem arbitrary or superfluous.

Organization leaders can do this by consistently reinforcing the purpose behind certain initiatives. During staff meetings, leaders should prompt staff to share stories about patient and family engagement payoffs, or advice for their peers to make engagement efforts more personal.

Additionally, organizations should involve staff in creating patient engagement strategies, soliciting feedback about how patient engagement strategies will affect clinical workflow. If an initiative might hinder clinician workflows, staff can offer better or less burdensome improvements.

Encourage family participation in care

Clinicians should be mindful of the role family members play in patient engagement and encourage patients to identify family care partners. Family care partners can help patients manage their individual follow-up care and self-management strategies, eventually leading to wellness.

Clinicians should also encourage patients to allow family members in the exam room. While providers should respect a patient’s choice, providers should advocate for and highlight the benefits of family engagement.

When patients do identify family caregivers, clinicians should assess caregiver health literacy and offer appropriate educational materials. Clinicians should also make sure there is a space in the exam room for the family member.

Equip, enable, and support patients to engage

Patients cannot engage with their own healthcare if they lack the expertise and materials, the guide said. Clinicians must leverage shared decision-making, education techniques, and medication management strategies to help patients stay on top of their wellness.

Ensuring patients are knowledgeable about their own care and have the tools to stay engaged is the best strategy for incorporating patient preferences, culture, and social norms into patient care.

Emphasize patient and family engagement in all initiatives

Ultimately, patient engagement strategies should permeate all aspects of the hospital or practice. Clinical leaders should not view patient and family engagement as one more thing to do – instead, engagement should be an aspect of all the things they do.

Ultimately, it will be up to healthcare organizations to determine the best specific strategies for improving patient and family engagement. However, these strategies should encompass the above-mentioned concepts, the guide explained. This ensures that clinical leaders, staff members, patients, and family members are accounted for during culture changes.

“Healthcare practices can adopt a variety of strategies to improve person and family engagement. Changes can range from improving office workflow, to improving how care team members interface with the patient and family, to developing shared decision-making strategies that ensure treatment is understood by and meaningful to the individual patient,” the guide concluded.

“When patients and families are partners in planning and making decisions about their care, health outcomes are better, patient experience and satisfaction improves, and often, costs are lower.”

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