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This week is National Patient Safety Awareness Week. It provides us with an opportune time to reflect on patient- and family-centered care and its important relationship to patient safety.

What is Patient- And Family-Centered Care?

The Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered care defines patient- and family-centered care as an “innovative approach to the planning, delivery, and evaluation of health care that is grounded in mutually beneficial partnerships among patients, families, and health care providers.” And indeed, this concept of partnership is a central component of patient and family-centered care where the emphasis is solidly placed on working with patients and families rather than doing to or for them.

There are many reasons to embrace patient- and family-centered care as a foundation for our health care practices, including the fact that patient- and family-centered care practices have been shown to lead to a better patient experience, increased patient/family satisfaction, and improved health outcomes for both patients and their families.

One of the most important reasons for committing to patient- and family-centered care is its critical impact on both the quality and safety of patient care. Practices that support information sharing provide opportunities for patients and their families to participate in their health care planning and decision-making at the level that they choose, and promote collaboration among patients, their family members, and health care providers to create conditions where all partners in this essential relationship feel supported to share their perspective, ask questions, raise concerns when they arise, and speak up. These are all essential elements to promoting the safest outcomes for patients.

United in Patient Safety

The theme for this year’s National Patient Safety Awareness Week, United In Patient Safety, echoes this sentiment and so perfectly articulates this idea that all members of the health care team, including patients and families, play a role in assuring patient safety.

Through our commitment to patient- and family-centered care as a strategic priority for the UVM Medical Center, we are working hard to create conditions where patients, family members and health care providers feel welcomed and empowered to engage in this level of mutually beneficial partnership.

We are actively moving forward with patient and family centered care in many ways.

  • We are providing opportunities for staff at all levels to become familiar with the core principles of patient-and family-centered care; specifically, dignity and respect, information sharing, participation and collaboration.
  • In the inpatient setting, we are working to replace our current visitation policy with a welcoming policy that will allow patients to decide when their loved ones can be at their bedside. This is an important change given that nationally one of the key safety recommendations for family members of those who are hospitalized is to remain at the bedside when their loved one may be unable to advocate for themselves.
  • Similarly, in ambulatory settings we are engaging in work to define and assure welcoming in the clinic setting with the goal of supporting this sense of partnership between patients, family members and the clinic team.
  • And perhaps most importantly, we are working closely with patient/family advisors. These are volunteers who have stepped up to partner with us to improve the quality and safety of care. Patient/family advisors bring the patient and family voice and perspective to planning and decision making at the UVM Medical Center. Our patient and family advisors have become part of our team and are currently represented on more than 40 committees and workgroups designed to improve patient care. They are sharing their health care experiences in a variety of settings to educate and train our staff and providers.

I am particularly excited that this year some of our patient and family advisors are joining us during Patient Safety Awareness Week. Together with members of the Patient Safety and Patient and Family Advocacy teams, they will be on-site throughout the week on the third floor of the Main Pavilion, providing information to patients about how to stay safe in the hospital and encouraging folks to sign up for MyHealth Online as one important way to become an active participate in their own health care. Please consider stopping by some time throughout the week to meet some of our advisors, learn more about patient- and family-centered care and patient safety, and thank them for becoming valued partners with us in our mutual commitment to excellent patient care.

Amy Cohen is Patient and Family Centered Care Manager at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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