Have you ever been a patient, or had a family member who was? If so, your local health region may have an important job for you! Not as the subject of a research study, but as a Patient or Family Advisor.
These are patients and family members of patients who have been (or currently are) in the healthcare system. They offer valuable insight to staff, physicians, and management from a user’s point of view. They work with front-line staff to try to make the healthcare system run more effectively for patients and families.
I became a patient advisor so I could give back to the hospital that has helped me so much — but also because of the negative experiences I have endured. My goal is not to blame but to help make sure other patients never experience what I did.
In January 2011, I attended my first critical care advisory meeting. Although I was nervous as I walked in to the room, I soon realized the healthcare providers who were there shared my commitment to making things better for the patients and families who need to use the ICU. We meet monthly. While we receive an honourium for our time and expenses to attend, I would do it for free just knowing I am making a difference. We set goals and work together to solve problems we have identified in the unit. We tackle anything from bedside rounding, to creating a new and improved family waiting area.
Advisory councils are not the forum to raise old issues that happened to you or a family member. Your personal experiences are important, but these meetings are a time for finding solutions so problems are not repeated. You come away knowing that staff recognize things are not perfect in the unit and that by working together we will make a difference.
One of the perks of being an advisor is the opportunity to participate in different 3P and RPIW events that are now happening in our province. It is a goal across the province that every RPIW and 3P will involve at least one patient or family member. A few years back, patients were not routinely included in improvement efforts.
Change is happening in our hospitals for the better for patients and families. I feel we should try and give back and look out for the next patient or family who may be entering our hospitals.
Our hospitals need your help. Becoming an advisor isn’t a permanent commitment. I do it because my illnesses prevent me from having a regular job; being involved as an advisor makes me feel like a contributing member of society again. Some people can only offer to do it for a year; in my view, a year of helping is better than not helping at all.
Even if you’ve had great care experiences, we still need your help. We want to know what made it so great and perhaps you can be that reinforcement that we are on the right path.
So, how do you get involved? Contact your local hospital or check your health region’s website, to see if they have, or are trying to start, an advisory board or council.
In the Saskatoon Health Region, we have a wonderful Patient and Family Care Specialist, Lisa Clatney. When people contact the region, she meets with them to find out more about their interest in getting involved, and to provide them with all the details so they understand what they are getting into. She also answers any questions you might have about becoming an advisor.
In some cases, the experience of you or your family member may still be too fresh or raw, and as a result, you may not be ready to participate quite yet. Part of Lisa’s role is to make sure that patients and family members who take on this role are set up for success. After some paperwork, you’ll be invited to your first meeting. There, you will be welcomed by an amazing group of staff, as well as other patients and family members.
As a patient who depends on the health region so regularly, I feel it is my duty to make sure we keep up the fantastic work the health regions in Saskatchewan are doing. I know other provinces and countries are watching and wanting to know how we have done this. Wouldn’t you like to be part of the positive changes?
I’m proud to say I am helping!