Through the eyes of a patient

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I recently attended the summit in Toronto. Over two days speakers from across Canada shared case studies, experiences and different ways to focus on and enhance the patient experience.

Our health care system is transforming in many ways, one of them being that the focus is shifting from the institution (hospital) to the patient – where it should be. I was surprised to learn that this was the first Patient Experience Summit of its kind – then was pleasantly surprised to hear that the venue had to be changed to accommodate the larger than expected number of registrants. This is a good sign for patients – a clear message that they matter.

In his opening remarks, Summit Chair, Vaughan Glover, President of the Canadian Association for People-Centred Health summed the patient experience up in one sentence – People want the care back in healthcare.  And when it comes to patient experience it’s really that simple. Reducing wait times, easing transitions home, increasing transparency –these are all initiatives that put the patient first and help put the care back in healthcare.

Leslee Thompson’s ( President and CEO of Kingston General Hospital)  opening address confirmed just how seriously many hospitals are taking patient experience. “Kingston General Hospital made a declaration that every single decision that would affect patient care would be made with a patient at the table.”  It’s a courageous declaration, but it makes perfect sense. Who better than a patient to represent the interests of patients at the decision-making table?  There is no better critic or impetus for change than a patient who can speak from experience.

The Patient Experience Summit provided trailblazers of the patient experience movement like Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and Kingston General Hospital to share their successes and help other hospitals enhance patient experience. Some successes are the result of initiatives that are large in scope and organization wide – like the declaration made at Kingston General Hospital.  And some are as simple as providing an estimated wait time for people in the emergency department; or giving them pagers so they don’t have to sit in the waiting room and can go to the washroom or get a drink. Enhancing the patient experience can be as simple as having Radio Flyer wagons to bring pediatric patients up to surgery (pg 8)  to ease their anxiety and distract them; or installing an interactive wall in the waiting room at a children’s hospital to make waiting for the doctor fun (pg 13).

This month also focuses on the patient experience and steps health care facilities are taking to enhance it. As a health care consumer, I am encouraged by these initiatives, no matter how small. What is becoming clear is that the patient should and needs to be considered in every aspect of healthcare…….from construction of new facilities (BC Women and Children’s Redevelopment Plan pg. 7) to discharge (VHA Home Care’s Parent Relief Program pg. 21).

Dr. Vaughan Glover advocates for a person-centric system transformation and lists where he sees an increasingly informed and empowered people driving our health systems and hospitals in particular in his article (pg. 16). What’s becoming clear as the patient experience movement gains momentum is that people are starting to listen.

This month’s cover story ‘A life or death decision’ examines end-of-life care and issues surrounding assisted suicide. During end-of-life care the focus of care should solely be on the patient experience. Nothing else matters.  , who led Toronto through the SARS crisis in 2003, made an impassioned plea in a YouTube Video for Canadians to rethink their opposition to assisted suicide.

The video is powerful – and has ignited a new dialogue on the merits of assisted suicide. While this column will not address the pros and cons of that issue, I can say that assisted suicide is really at the heart of the patient experience. If and when this issue is addressed in the Canadian legal system – decision-makers need to have patients at the table and look at the issue not only as politicians, lawyers and lawmakers but as patients.

There was a time not so long ago when the patient experience would have been considered an extravagance our strapped health system could ill afford. What we didn’t understand then (or ignored) is that focusing on the patient experience can increase efficiencies, decrease costs and improve outcomes. It’s a win-win situation.
It’s time we start evaluating the performance of hospitals not only through budgets and quantity of procedures etc., but through the eyes of the people who matter most, the patients.