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Dr. Joshua Tepper

Health Quality Ontario’s Patient, Family & Public Advisors Council: A year of engagement

Health Quality Ontario has just published an overview profiling the first full year of activity of our Patient, Family and Public Advisors Council.

The Council was created in the fall of 2015 to help inform Health Quality Ontario by the experience and wisdom of patients, families and the public. We had seen hospitals, long-term care homes and other organizations create such councils to great advantage to better engage the patient population and felt we could derive the same benefits.

From among 160 patients, family members and members of the public who expressed interest, our 16-member Council was formed.

Council members have now had a year to document their experiences and growth which has included full involvement in setting the Council’s terms of reference and participating in actions to support Health Quality Ontario’s strategic plan.

As we mark the achievements of the Council it is important to acknowledge that having such a body doesn’t necessarily make you patient-centred.

That's the main point of a blog posted at the beginning of this year by Christina Gunther-Murphy, Executive Director at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI).

With the ongoing growth of patient councils throughout the Ontario system, it is worth keeping in mind the cautionary point that Gunther-Murphy raises: “I fear that the existence of patient and family advisory councils may … unconsciously allow health system staff members to think that being patient-centered is like an item you can check off a to-do list instead of an ongoing pursuit,” she wrote.

As a result, she said, these institutions “fail to take full advantage” of the perspectives of their council and settle for just “minimal input”.

Gunther-Murphy said the potential risks of thinking you are more patient-centred than you actually are can be avoided by being conscious of the risk, having your council do meaningful work, and in engaging patients and families through other mechanisms.

When done right,” Gunther-Murphy writes “(patient councils) can be powerful sources of change."

A read of our own Council’s “First Year in Review” hopefully shows that Health Quality Ontario works hard to engage Council members in meaningful work, on everything from how members would like the Council to function, to the priorities that will be set out in Quality Improvement Plans completed by more than 1000 organizations.

In their introduction, the Council co-chairs wrote: “We feel empowered; our enthusiasm has been justified; and we feel an even deeper commitment to Health Quality Ontario and its mandate to improve the quality of care for all people living in Ontario.

To Gunther-Murphy’s point of engaging patients through other mechanisms, Health Quality Ontario has also curated and developed an extensive set of tools to help organizations and providers engage better with patients, such as a checklist to help organizations select the best methods for patient and caregiver engagement.

Health Quality Ontario also has a broader provincial network of patient, caregiver and public advisors who participate in forums to discuss key issues, sit on Health Quality Ontario committees, share one-on-one feedback and help to build resources and tools for patient engagement.

We are very excited by this first report of our Council which traces how the Council members have evolved to become partners in the work Health Quality Ontario is doing.

In a recent blog, we noted that organizations run the risk of working with those they are most comfortable with instead of those they should be working with. As a result, patient advisory groups may lack representation from minority groups and underserved communities. In the coming year, there are plans by the Council to add more diversity to its membership.

We are so pleased to receive this first report of our Patient, Family and Public Advisors Council. We deeply appreciate how they have helped shape our work and their desire to improve health care quality.

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

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