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Partnering with Families to Improve Patient Experience and Outcomes

A newly launched campaign calls on hospitals to extend family visiting hours.

It was an incredibly special and happy time recently when my wife gave birth to our new daughter. Flexible visiting hours at the hospital meant I was able to spend time with my partner and share in an especially exciting moment of our life.

Not everyone is so fortunate.

Take Colin, the subject of a recent story featured on Healthy Debate in March of this year. Colin’s wife went into labour at a hospital in a mid-size city in southern Ontario. It was a difficult experience – one that saw wife and baby placed into a semi-private room at 5:30am. The hospital’s visiting hour policy prevented Colin from staying overnight.

Colin’s experience is more common than mine it seems, according to a new study recently released by the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI). Just 18% of the 114 acute-care hospitals surveyed in CFHI’s study have “open,” “24/7” and/or “flexible” visiting policies. Most of these hospitals are located in British Columbia. CFHI’s study shows visiting hours ranging from 24 hours a day, seven days a week at some hospitals to slim two-hour windows (6:30pm to 8:30pm) at others.

As a health care provider, I’ve seen my fair share of scared, anxious or upset patients. And I’ve seen how comforting it can be to have a family member present. CFHI’s report references several other U.S.-based studies from the Institute for Patient and Family Centered Care and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that show family presence policies benefit patients, families, caregivers and even hospitals by lowering readmission rates and improving medication adherence. From a provider’s perspective, witnessing a patient’s interactions with loved ones also helps us gain an inside view of their personal life so we can better tailor the care we deliver.

It’s no surprise to find out from CFHI’s polling data that 90 percent of health care professionals support family presence. More surprising however is that that same polling data shows less than a quarter of Canadian acute-care hospitals have accommodating visiting policies to bolster that presence.

Patient-centredness is a core dimension of health quality (to read about all six dimensions, read Quality Matters: Realizing Excellent Care for All) and means that care is respectful and responsive to individual preferences, needs and values. Offering more flexible visiting hours for family and caregivers is an example of how we can realize this dimension. That’s why I’m proud to support the new Better Together: Partnering with Families campaign in Canada.

CFHI and the U.S. Institute of Patient and Family Centered Care have partnered to launch the Better Together campaign to promote more flexible family visiting hours in hospitals. Together they will call on 1,000 hospitals across North America to eliminate restrictive visiting hours and institute new, flexible guidelines by the end of 2017.

This campaign champions patient-centred care and encourages hospitals to view families as “partners in care” rather than as “visitors” in the design of care across the hospital sector. While change rarely happens overnight, the campaign will push for a more open dialogue between staff, patients, families and caregivers and the creation of more consistent visiting policies in hospitals across Canada

Hopefully that will mean fewer stories like Colin’s and more stories of patients, families and caregivers working together with providers to achieve the best possible care experience.

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Claude Lurette and Kowsiya Vijayartnam, Health Quality Ontario Patient, Family and Caregiver Advisors Council Co-Chairs

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