Putting Patients First

Putting Patients First

Patient and Family Advisory Group celebrates 10 years

Story by Colin Zak

Marian George, back row, fourth from left, poses with fellow members of Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) Patient and Family Advisory Group. They have made a positive impact by reflecting the patient and family voice in provincial healthcare.

When Marian George talks about her role as a Patient and Family Advisor, her passion comes through in her voice.

“For a lot of clinicians and leaders, it can be hard to understand care from the perspective of a patient or family member,” says George, Co-Chair of Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) Patient and Family Advisory Group (PFG).

“That’s why our advisors have been invited to the table with leaders. This approach is unique to Alberta.”

Formed in December 2010, the group began as a collection of Patient and Family Advisors recruited to provide advice to the newly-formed AHS and its leaders — from the perspective of patients and families — with regards to provincial policies, planning, clinical practice and service delivery.
They represent a diverse range of backgrounds, regions and care experiences, but they share a common goal — to reflect the lived experience of patients and families in the decision-making process.

Over the past decade, the presence of Patient and Family Advisors has grown. Since its inception in 2010/2011, the number of consultation requests from AHS leaders and program areas fielded by the group has grown more than tenfold — from seven requests that first year to 78 requests in 2017/2018.

“Our role has definitely evolved over the years. Initially, our role was to offer information and advice to those in leadership roles within AHS so we could help improve the experience of patients and families,” says George. “We’re beginning to face higher expectations, and are increasingly playing a co-design role for the health system.”

Across the organization, the presence of Patient and Family Advisors is also growing, with approximately 1,147 registered advisors working in program areas across the province.

At their core, Patient and Family Advisors aim to live out the principles of Patient- and Family-Centred Care — partnership, collaboration, engagement, respect and transparency.

“An important distinction is that we have an advisory role, not an advocacy role,” George adds. “This is because our role is collaborative, and that’s what’s enabled us to have such a big impact.”

Current priorities for the group include improving access, with a focus on Addictions & Mental Health services, Indigenous Health and Community Care, as well as a number of other areas.

Over the past 10 years, Patient and Family Advisors have played key roles in helping to develop policies around Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID), Continuing Care Access, Patient Repatriation, Visitation and Family Presence, Preferential Access, Patient Concern Resolution, Opioid Response and Cancer Care.

“I think two things make this group so unique and so effective: First, their diversity, because they represent a wide range of perspectives and life experiences,” says Dr. Rollie Nichol, AHS Associate Chief Medical Officer and Co-Chair of the Patient & Family Advisory Group.

“Second, their expertise. They have experienced the health system firsthand. As healthcare leaders, they help ground our decisions and ensure that we are putting patients first in everything we do.”

The group meets quarterly and provides education and consultation sessions throughout the year.

“PFG is available for ongoing consultation with leaders and teams in the development of projects and priorities,” adds Dr. Nichol.

“In a lot of ways, AHS was before its time when PFG was created. Fortunately, we continue to grow as an organization, and the growing role of our Patient & Family Advisors is no exception.”

To learn more about PFG and explore how you can partner with Patient and Family Advisors, visit the AHS website or contact Patient.Engagement@ahs.ca.