Hospitals, stop benching your best players: It's time to make patients full care team partners

When it comes to patient-centered care, children's hospitals often have a leg up. Why? Because they've mastered something many adult acute care hospitals have not: involving patients and families in strategic decision-making.

"Healthcare is a team sport, and we need to be inclusive of patients and families as critical team members, not optional subs," says Rachel Biblow, senior vice president of transformational solutions at Press Ganey.

Prior to joining Press Ganey in 2018, Ms. Biblow spent more than 15 years at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, most recently serving as senior director of patient and family services.

Here, Ms. Biblow discusses how hospitals can redefine the care team and make patients strategic partners in safety, quality and patient experience efforts.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.

Question: What do you think is the biggest opportunity for hospitals to achieve patient-centered care? Why do children's hospitals have an edge at this?

Rachel Biblow: A major opportunity is redefining the care team. To achieve patient-centered care, hospitals need to broaden the definition of who is on the care team and open themselves up to new partnerships with patients and family members. They are experts in their own care and should be at the table with health system leaders as true partners in the work of quality, safety and patient experience.

Pediatrics does a great job at this. They've had patient and family advisory councils for a very long time, tapping patients and families as co-designers of many macro-level strategic decisions. They've also included families in their safety work and experience design work, which has been really groundbreaking and allowed them to accelerate some of the improvements they've made. Many hospitals have advisory councils but have not leveraged them in the same way as pediatric health systems. 

Q: When it comes to achieving patient-centered care and improving the patient experience, what strategies should adult acute care hospitals borrow from children's hospitals?

RB: Setting up a patient and family advisory council is important. Hospital leaders must invite patients to the table to help with the full end-to-end design of new care processes, buildings or systems. I would push people to think even further about developing a family or patient partners program that deploys patients and family members to critical hospital committees or board meetings. Hospitals could also include patients in new employee orientation just to remind every person in the organization why they are there and that their work has purpose.

At some point, we're all going to be a patient, and we all have a vested interest in advancing what's possible in safety, quality and experience. Having formal programs and adopting that partnership framework makes a difference. Hospital leaders should adopt the mindset that we need to build things with people, rather than do things to them or for them. We often reach answers better when working together. 

Q: What can hospitals do within one calendar year to improve the patient experience?

RB: Improving patient experience is a multiyear journey that never really ends. You need to start with a strong foundation of teamwork and an aligned vision. Senior leaders should spend time up front to create alignment and clarity on the organization's shared purpose, values and expected employee behaviors. Getting really clear on that in the first year and making sure that the patient and family members are part of that design can help. I think we often take shortcuts and hope there is a magic bullet, but we really need to focus on that foundation.

Q: If you could change one patient safety issue overnight, what would it be?

RB: I think it's really about helping people recognize that it's not one safety event or one incident. It's people. It's our children. It's our loved ones. There is nothing insignificant about the little details or safety checks we do. We are caring for people at their most vulnerable, and we have a huge responsibility to get it right. We should be communicating with them and each other more effectively about the care and how we deliver it. 

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