How Cleveland Clinic innovates experience — with help from former patients  

With an eye on constant innovation — especially when it comes to patient experience and satisfaction — Cleveland Clinic is growing its Healthcare Partners program by continuing to invite former patients and members of their families to advise on new hospital initiatives.

"This program empowers patients and families to be active participants with our caregivers and serve as advisory resources where the work is happening," Stephanie Bayer, Cleveland Clinic's senior director of patient experience, told Becker's. 

Instead of holding monthly meetings to discuss goals and suggestions for improvement, Cleveland Clinic's volunteers are "active participants in care," she said, noting they  work directly with patients to make sure they are comfortable, understand what's going on and feel able to communicate their needs. 

When the hospital is looking to launch a new initiative, it reaches out to members of its Healthcare Partners team in search of volunteers who have experience in different specialties. Who better to collaborate on a new program for cancer patients than those who have received similar care? Same goes for the neonatal unit, where only parents who have had very sick newborns can speak to upgrades and changes that might improve the experience for other families.

Cleveland Clinic holds daily "plan of care" visits between a patient, their physician and nurse. Healthcare Partners have an active role on each floor of the hospital to help patients manage their hospital experience.

When a new patient is admitted, a Healthcare Partner will meet with them on certain units to say, "Hi! I was also a heart patient here." They can share their own experiences and suggest ways to best navigate the Cleveland Clinic system to best suit their own needs.

Ms. Bayer said the Healthcare Partner program is important when it comes to setting expectations for patients. "People aren't used to being inpatient. So if we can help them understand [what's happening] in a non-threatening, non-intimidating way from a peer, I think it's really meaningful."

The program is working in terms of high patient satisfaction scores and far fewer complaints. "The return on investment from this program is immeasurable. By including patients in human-centered design like this, we are able to ensure we have empathic processes centered around those that matter most," Ms. Bayer said.

Here are four ways Cleveland Clinic is using experience as a teacher by including former patients in its Healthcare Partner program:

  1. Navigation support: Cleveland Clinic has navigational caregivers it calls Red Coats. These individuals help patients and their families physically navigate their way around the hospital system. Healthcare Partners volunteers helped the hospital create useful maps and signage and even made suggestions about where Red Coats should be positioned to be of optimal service.
  1. Building design: Volunteers have reviewed blueprints for Cleveland Clinic's new buildings and shared their perspectives as former patients. For example, when the hospital was designing its new cancer building, former patients suggested the cafeteria not be "near treatment areas because smells can be overpowering," Ms. Bayer said.
  1. Help with care delivery: Healthcare Partners routinely meet with patients prior to their first "plan of care" visit to discuss what to expect and how to make the most of their time with care teams.  

Healthcare Partners "also join in leadership rounds and accompany leaders to talk to staff and other patients to learn how we can improve."

  1. Communications: In various forms of messaging — verbal to print to electronic — Healthcare Partners "help us ensure we are speaking with patient voices for all demographics," Ms. Bayer said.

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