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How loved ones can help to ensure that patients remain safe

When it comes to healthcare, doctors are the experts. But when it comes to patients, there are no better experts than patients themselves and their families. Therefore, it stands to reason that doctors and hospitals could improve care by seeking input and feedback from those they treat.

As some hospitals attempt to reduce errors, prevent incidents of medical malpractice and generally improve care, patient/family engagement is one of the strategies being tested. And the engagement is not simply limited to seeking feedback about the colors of the hospital's walls or the quality of food served in the cafeteria.

Patients and their families can help physicians better understand how communication can improve or worsen outcomes. This is a two-way street. First, doctors need to understand how to effectively give instructions that patients/families can understand and follow (such as proper medication dosing). At the same time, physicians also need to learn how to solicit patient information. Asking the right questions about a patient's medical history, for example, can vastly impact the diagnosis and course of treatment.

Finally, hospitals should make it a priority to include patient advocates in key decision-making roles, including as members of the hospital's board. This way, high-level decisions about policies and best practice can be made with the input of those who can see things from a patient's perspective.

Healthcare has many complex details, but like many things, good healthcare often comes down to good communication and mutual trust. Getting patients and their families more involved in the healthcare process could help hospitals achieve those goals.

Source: Hospitals and Health Networks, "Engaging Patients and Families to Eliminate Harm," Charisse Coulombe, Natalie Erb and Jessica Blake, Oct. 30, 2014

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