When the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics embarked on its discharge collaborative project to improve patient satisfaction with the discharge process, the organization’s Patient and Family Advisors
(PFAs) were an important part of the process.

“Our Patient and Family Advisors are key partners in all we do. They remind us that our goal is to always remember the voice of the patient and to help us when we get off track,” says Sandra Salvo, UW Health program manager for patient and family-centered care.

The purpose of involving the Patient and Family Advisors in improvement projects is to help the staff provide patient- and family-centered care and to get the patient perspective on hospital processes and systems, Salvo adds.

PFAs participated in the initiative from the beginning and were invited to be at the discharge collaborative weekly meetings and to speak up about their discharge experiences. Peggy Zimdars, a longtime PFA and co-chair of the UW Health Patient Family Advisory Council, served on the steering committee for the process improvement initiative.

Often, the staff and the patients see things in a different way, Zimdars points out.

“The hospital seems like organized chaos to patients. What’s going on is routine for the staff but not for the patients. Patients are very stressed when they’re in the hospital, but the staff expects the patient to be flexible,” Zimdars says.

UW Health began seeking input from Patient and Family Advisors in 2006, Salvo says. Initially, there was one PFA council for the adult hospital and one for the children’s hospital.

“Now we have PFAs serving across the organization on 12 Patient and Family Advisory Councils, dozens of committees and quality councils, improvement teams, facility design teams, and executive search committees, as well as assisting with patient education materials and telling patient stories to educate, inspire, and inform our staff and providers,” she says.

Zimdars says she reminds staff members to keep focused on individual patients and families, rather than getting caught up in metrics. “I tell the staff that the data they are discussing has a name, a family, and a life outside the hospital and that the hospital staff should always incorporate the patient in everything they do,” she says.

For instance, the PFAs who worked on the discharge collaborative reminded the team that it is important to have a set time for discharge.

“Having a PFA at the discharge collaborative meetings was helpful. It helped the staff put a face on the people they are working with and it made them realize that this really is about the patients and families and not just the staff,” says Ann Malec, MS, RN, NEA-BC, director of medical nursing for University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.

Patient and Family Advisors may self-nominate or be nominated by the staff or other PFAs, Salvo says. They go through a screening and orientation process before they begin their duties. They are assigned to a variety of roles throughout the health system.

“The voices of our PFAs have been heard at any point where we interact with patients and their families, including clinical protocols, how we do rounding and handoffs, infection control, palliative care, provider communication and empathy, patient education, and discharge planning, to name a few. They have helped us keep our focus on our patients’ and families’ needs while also recognizing the driving forces within healthcare in which we need to operate,” Salvo says.