Wanted: Patient and public input

Friday, September 27, 2013 - 10:49am


Geoff Wilson sips a coffee and leans forward, going through the key points of Capital Health’s patient and public engagement program, highlighting where good work has been done, where more needs to be done.

For Wilson, director of the program, everyday is about helping regular people become more involved in health care.

“We want to involve as many people (as possible), helping us set priorities, make decisions and helping to give us some direction,” he says.

Capital Health’s commitment to patient and public engagement began in 2007 during Strategic Quest, a planning process aimed at shaping the organization’s future. Since then, Capital Health has adopted an engagement policy, a basic training program for staff and physicians and built a team of four patient and public engagement advisors.

This team supports all of Capital Health’s programs and services, helping them to plan and deliver on their commitment to involve people.

Wilson stresses that patient and public engagement isn’t just a nice-to-do item on Capital Health’s list. It is integral to the organization’s philosophy and its way forward.

“We have a policy which governs this and people in the leadership roles in the organization have accountability under the policy. This isn’t optional for us.”

One of the major initiatives aimed at improving public and patient feedback is the Quality and Patient Safety teams. These teams inform more than 60 service areas within Capital Health, with current and former patients providing valuable input.

The program is constantly recruiting for volunteer positions on the Quality and Patient Safety teams, sometimes taking three to four months to find a candidate. Those who have taken part say the process is enriching.

“We’ve learned from (Capital Health) and they’ve learned from us,” said Paula Churchill, orthopedic Quality and Patient Safety Team member. “They’ve been able to implement different things we’ve suggested.”

Through many of the program’s initiatives, patients and members of the public have the opportunity to take part in meaningful discussions about issues that impact their lives.

“As a citizen, to have the opportunity to learn more and give your opinion and advice on some things that perhaps could change or work better, for me personally was a great opportunity,” said Bob Book, who was a patient volunteer of Capital Health’s 2011 citizen reference panel on business planning.

Engaging patients and the public to take part in health care decisions requires a shift from the traditional, expert-driven model, to one that is broad based and grass roots oriented. While medical experts and health care professionals continue to be important, patient and public perspectives are sought out and used to provide the best care, said Wilson.

At this point, much of the patient and public engagement work is project based, aimed at meeting needs identified by members of the public or patient populations. Wilson said bringing people with diverse backgrounds and opinions into the process is an important part of how Capital Health tackles issues.

“Every time we have brought people in with a lay perspective or a patient perspective, things have changed.”

Contact the patient and public engagement team at participate@cdha.nshealth.ca