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Caring for Patients and Families

While politicians in Washington argue over the future of healthcare provisions, providers at Baptist Health South Florida, have focused their energy on a healthcare change that’s being embraced by those who experience it – patient- and family-centered care.

Gone are the days when doctors and nurses administered medications or ordered diagnostic tests without giving an explanation to patients or their family members as to why those actions were necessary.  Now, doctors and nurses involve patients in those decisions and encourage them and their family members to ask questions and be honest about their care expectations.

“We now see our patients and their family members as partners, rather than the traditional, one-directional communication model between doctors and patients that many of us grew up with,” said Traci Virelli, Baptist Health’s director of patient and family experience.  Ms. Virelli has worked closely with administrators and caregivers at Baptist Health’s hospitals and outpatient facilities to turn this patient- and family-centered philosophy into practice.

Ms. Virelli says that while patients notice the difference from a service standpoint – much like you know when you’ve been wowed by great service at a hotel or restaurant – the patient- and family-centered care model also enhances patient safety and overall clinical outcomes.

“Patient- and family-centered care is at the core of how we can improve patient safety and clinical outcomes,” said Baptist Health’s Chief Medical and Quality Officer Thinh Tran, M.D., who last week was named to the Founding Executive Council of the Institute for Innovation [1], developed to understand patients’ expectations to improve the quality of their overall care.  “There’s no question when we involve patients and their families, we improve care overall.”

Ms. Virelli points to the development of patient and family advisors [2] as an important step in establishing a culture of patient- and family-centered care.  These advisors – 35 in total – meet regularly with doctors, nurses and administrators of Baptist Health’s hospitals and outpatient facilities to suggest improvements to the patient experience.

Some of their suggestions have become reality.  These include:
•    Redefining who “family” is, because for some patients, “family” may not be a blood relative.
•    Unlimited visiting hours [3], even in critical care areas like ICU.
•    Family Resource Centers where health information can be researched.
•    Code Help – a special code, like Code Blue, that can be activated through a phone call that a patient’s loved ones make to the facility’s operator when they feel the patient needs immediate medical attention.

The advisors, Ms. Virelli says, also review the materials given to patients in the hospital or outpatient facility or when they leave to go home to determine whether these documents are clearly understood by patients and their families.

“If these materials aren’t communicating what we need the patient to understand, then we haven’t given them proper instructions,” she said.  “That misunderstanding could potentially compromise a patient’s well-being.”

Dr. Tran says patient- and family-centered care is the future of healthcare.

“This is truly the way of the future in healthcare,” he said.  “We’re getting back to the fundamentals of patient care – focusing on patients and their needs.  And, at the same time, we’re enhancing the experience of our doctors, nurses and staff, making their work more efficient and rewarding.  In some ways, we’re heading back to the future.”