Here's how Children's Mercy is elevating the family's voice.
When DeeJo Miller and Sheryl Chadwick meet with patient families at Children's Mercy in Kansas City, Missouri, on behalf of the hospital, they bring a different perspective to the conversation. That's because doctors at Children's Mercy treated Miller and Chadwick's children for cancer.
Both Miller and Chadwick served the hospital as volunteers and later joined the parent advisory board. In 2008, Children's Mercy hired the two mothers as its first Patient and Family Engagement program managers—staff members tasked with representing the family's voice on hospital committees, workgroups and projects.
One of those projects is the Family Experience Tracer program, where Miller and Chadwick meet with randomly selected families to assist with their hospital visit and solicit real-time feedback on the hospital's performance. "It's very gratifying work," Miller says. "We can be empathetic to families' situations and offer supportive listening."
Tracers expanding as a valuable tool for hospital improvements
Children's Mercy began using parent volunteers to gauge family experience on site in 2005. The process started as a somewhat informal method to provide feedback to individual departments but has evolved over the years. In 2015, Katie Taff, MBA, M.H.A., certified patient experience professional, and the manager of Children's Mercy's Patient and Family Engagement program—along with Miller and Chadwick—formalized the documentation process and expanded the program's reach.
What began as a goal of conducting four tracers per month has grown to 15. And the information gathered from the tracers, originally loaded into a simple document and shared with clinical leaders for informational purposes, is now kept in a database alongside safety events and patient complaints. The patient advocacy department analyzes the tracers, and the data is shared with the appropriate clinicians across the institution.
Additionally, process design experts at Children's Mercy further analyze the information to formulate process and policy improvements. The new improvements are then run through the tracer process again to fine-tune the enhancements.
The program has come full circle, so that now departments across the hospital seek out family feedback via the tracer program before implementing process or design enhancements. "It shows a culture shift in our organization," Miller says. "It's valuing the perspective of the end user and what it's like to actually receive care here."
Benefits include immediacy, comfort level
The program has helped Children's Mercy institute improvements in ways that wouldn't be possible with traditional patient family feedback methods:
- Immediacy of the feedback. "It's important to gather feedback in the midst of the experience," Chadwick says. "If we call a family two weeks after the child is discharged, a lot of those details would go away."
- Comfort level. Miller and Chadwick establish a rapport with fellow parents who might not be as open with clinicians or hospital staff. "They view us as their peers," Chadwick says. "We tell them, ‘We want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly.' We want to keep doing the things we're doing well and change the things that aren't working as well for patients and families."
- Family satisfaction. Perhaps the largest benefit is showing patients and families their opinions matter. "Families appreciate being heard and knowing the hospital has parents who are paid to listen to them and to guide the way we provide care," Miller says.
Family involvement a larger initiative
The tracer program is just one piece of a much larger initiative at Children's Mercy to include patients and their families in the decision-making process, including:
- Several patient and family advisory boards, including boards for teen patients, Spanish-speaking families, NICU patient families and those with specific diagnoses
- Leveraging parents as faculty so they can share their experiences to help clinicians better understand the health care experience from the family's perspective
- Hiring parents, like Miller and Chadwick, to provide the family perspective on committees, facilitate educational opportunities for hospital staff and recruit and train Patient Family Advisors to serve on various projects
Although much work and resources go into these various initiatives, Miller says the concept is simple. "Families appreciate the respect that they're given when people talk to them," Miller says. "It's not rocket science; it's the basic caring human nature of the experience that matters to families."
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