How to Build A Successful Patient Advisor Council

In our latest webinar we dove into the world of patient advisors and the value of including the voice of the patient in healthcare decisions. As we learned, including the voice of the patient helps healthcare organizations shift from making decisions for patients to making decisions with them.  

Our presenters, Adrineh Poulatian, Director of Patient Experience, and Geri Horsma, Patient Advisor, from Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) did a wonderful job sharing insights from their work – and there was tremendous engagement from the audience. So much engagement, in fact, that we didn't have enough time to get to all of your questions.  

Without further ado, here are their answers to your lingering questions:  

Q: Do you have online advisors? 

Geri: We don't have anyone in a slot called online advisor, but many of our projects require online interaction which can be done from the person's home, which I think many people appreciate because of the traffic and transportation. It depends really on what the requesters want, sometimes they want personal presence, but we've also had a lot of conference calls where it really works out because we have people from all over chiming in. 

Adrineh: Patient advisors can participate using really any mode of communication.  

Q: Would having Patient Family advisors to review policies that may pertain to families or significant others at the bedside be appropriate? 

Geri: I think it would depend on what the policies are, I think it's useful for a person to have introductory information on how to get someone registered, what kind of expectations there are from the medical staff versus the patient advisor. You want people to be able to be supportive of their loved one but not interfering with the medical team.  

Adrineh: I would say that it's very appropriate to review anything that would impact patients and families and run it by the patient advisors. I've seen it done in the inpatient world in the hospital setting and it's good to get that perspective.  

Q: How many total members are on your committee? 

Adrineh: Currently there are 14 members, and that's optimal for us.   

Q: Do you have strategies for outreach to marginalized patient/family populations? 

Adrineh: That's a great question. What we want is an accurate representation of our patient population in our patient advisor council. Are we there yet a hundred percent? No, and that's something we continue to work on. Part of that is just the reality of the role.  For example, people who work 9-5 will find it more challenging to participate in projects. These are logistic issues.   

Geri: Part of that can be helped by letting people telecommute for a project.  

Q: Do you do anything different than what you presented to recruit for diverse populations? 

Geri: We're always working on ways to include people. One thing that we trialed in the last year and a half was to have presentations at other community education eventsw. The group that we targeted, because we knew they might have daytime [availability], were groups coming in for their Medicare information sessions. We had several trials where our patient advisors spoke, they had flyers available and talked for a few minutes about the program and were available to answer questions afterwards.  

Adrineh: The people attending definitely were from a diverse group. And [this process] is now something we have readily available, we've created standards and can launch it with really any of our community education groups. 

Q: How can we grow the PFAC board? 

Adrineh: Very slowly. It is critical to be mindful of how many new members are coming on board at once or in a tight time frame. Each patient advisor, as I have experienced it, requires a lot of hands on assistance to be ready to independently participate. Because of that, it is unproductive to have too many start at the same time. Having said that, there are lots of recruiting strategies: 

  • Asking clinicians and staff for recommendations  
  • Recruitment through flyers 
  • Posting information on the website 
  • Connecting to patient portals at the organization to advertise
  • Advertising in public spaces in the community  

 The one thing I would not recommend asking patient advisors to recommend friends and family – there's a nice balance having people who are diverse and not acquainted come to the table.  

Q: How are you spreading the message of patient and family centered throughout the system? Internally and externally? 

Adrineh: Internally, the positive experiences on both sides - the patient advisor and the team that requested the partnership. That in of itself is creating buzz. With each positive experience there are more teams who become interested in engaging patient advisors. We also have leaders who are very committed to having the voice of the patient at the table, with committees and improvement work which also engages our patient advisors. Each instance offers an opportunity for them to be educated. We are looking at ways to be a little more deliberate in sharing the successes, so for example we're logging the hours that patient advisors give us and now we're looking to see how we can share this important information with the organization.  

Q: Do you have one advisory board for the organization or disease/service specific separate advisory boards? 

Adrineh: There are certain things to take into consideration. One is, what is the need of the organization? And, how can this be a positive experience for the patient advisors? So we have one patient advisor council and they are available for any work that is requested either from Palo Alto Medical Foundation or Sutter Health. If there comes a day that we need to have a team that is more specific to a service line then we're happy to pursue that but right now our team is meeting the needs of the organization. I do know of organization that have more specific teams that support a service line or a diagnosis, and if the patient advisors are going to be engaged enough and the organization continues to pull on them, then that's great.  

Q: Can you review the list of patient advisor responsibilities again?  

For more information on the patient advisor responsibilities at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, take a look at the complete role decription online

To learn more watch the on-demand recording of The Voice of the Patient webinar. 


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