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Engaging patients and families

Why involve patients and families in patient safety work?
  • Bringing the perspectives of patients and families directly into the planning, delivery, and evaluation of care is a critical part of improving safety and quality. Patient and family advisers:
    • Offer insights that illustrate what their providers do well and highlight where changes may be needed
    • Help develop priorities and make improvements based on patient- and family- identified needs rather than on health professional assumptions
    • Bring a fresh perspective and help devise solutions that clinicians and staff have not yet thought about
  • Patient and family advisors are critical allies for quality and safety.
  • Working with advisers helps build a shared agreement around safety and quality priorities. This shared agreement fosters partnerships in care, enhances the care experience, and improves outcomes.
How do we get started?

There are countless ways that you can partner with patient and family advisers. Getting started often involves small steps, such as working with advisers on one specific issue or project. Below are some examples:

  • Invite two or three patient and family members to a team meeting to discuss their experience at your healthcare facility. Ask them to share what went well, what could have gone better, and what ideas they have for change and improvement.
  • Ask patients and families to give feedback on educational or informational materials, such as patient and family handbooks, instructions for follow-up care after an appointment, or care transition instructions.
  • Invite patients and families to present at staff orientations and in-service programs to share their perspectives of care and how illness or well visits affect patients and families.
  • Explore your healthcare facility and area through the eyes of patients and their families by doing a walkabout with patients and families to explore how your area welcomes patients and families and encourages their participation in care and decision-making. These findings will give a different context for your staff discussions. Begin at the first point of entry into the facility (e.g., the parking lot) and continue to and throughout the area. Ask patients and families to give their perspectives on the waiting area, exam rooms, treatment or laboratory rooms, and other areas visible to patients and families.
How does this align with our goals for patient-centered care?

Patient- and family-centered care emphasizes collaboration with patients and families at all levels. The core concepts of patient- and family-centered care are:

  • Dignity and respect. Health care practitioners listen to and honor patient and family perspectives and choices. Patient and family knowledge, values, beliefs, and cultural backgrounds are incorporated into the planning and delivery of care.
  • Participation. Patients and families are encouraged and supported to participate in care and decision-making at the level they choose.
  • Information sharing. Patients and families receive timely, complete, and accurate information to effectively participate in care and decision-making. Clinicians and hospital staff communicate and share complete and unbiased information with patients and families in ways that are affirming and useful.
  • Collaboration. Patients, families, clinicians, hospital staff, and health care leaders collaborate in policy and program development, implementation and evaluation, facility design, professional education, and the delivery of care.

Adapted from Guide to Patient and Family Engagement, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

For a more in-depth toolkit for patient and family engagement, see: