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United in Safety: Strategies for Engagement

Posted By Admin, Friday, February 13, 2015
Updated: Friday, February 13, 2015

How do we make patient engagement more systematic in our health organizations?


By Tejal K. Gandhi, MD, MPH, CPPS


   Tejal K. Gandhi

Patient Safety Awareness Week, which this year is March 8-14, is one of the most exciting weeks of the year for the National Patient Safety Foundation because we hear from so many people across the country—and abroad—who are doing work to raise awareness in their organizations or communities about patient safety.


This year’s week is focusing on strategies to enhance patient and family engagement in health care. As documented in a 2014 NPSF Lucian Leape Institute report, research and practice have shown that patient and family engagement can contribute to safer care through improved outcomes, better patient experience of care, and better working experience for health professionals. Many organizations are making good progress in this area, yet our health care system has only begun to reap the benefits that can truly come from greater patient and family participation. Barriers to engagement remain high, most notably the time constraints on clinicians and the lack of formal, relevant training to teach clinicians how to interact more effectively with their patients.


Recently I was asked how we might go about making patient engagement more systematic in our health organizations. If the leadership is committed, there are things they can start on right away:

  1. Patient and family advisory councils (PFACs) have become more common, and many organizations have different levels of PFACs in action. NPSF recommends involving patients and families in quality improvement projects and in the development of patient education materials.
  2. Open visitation in hospitals is another key recommendation, and NPSF is a strong supporter of the Better Together campaign sponsored by the Institute for Patient and Family-Centered Care. Having families free to visit would encourage another recommendation: patient and family participation in in multidisciplinary rounds, to increase their understanding of the patient’s status and care plan, and to bring forth any questions or concerns.
  3. Enlist patients and families to serve as "faculty" to educate clinicians, staff, and students in the health professions about the experience of illness and perceptions of safe care.
  4. When something does go wrong, involve a patient or patient representative in root cause analysis to bring the patient voice to these discussions.

This is but a sampling of the recommendations in the report, Safety Is Personal: Partnering with Patients and Families for the Safest Care. I encourage you to review the report as well as the accompanying action plan checklist to get a better sense of this issue.


Like many areas of patient safety, when it comes to patient engagement, one person’s effort is important, yet everyone’s effort is essential. That sentiment is reflected in this year’s Patient Safety Awareness Week theme, United in Safety. I hope you’ll take a moment to explore the activities we have planned and set aside some time to recognize the week with NPSF.


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