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Annenberg Conference sends a patient's message: "Nothing about me without me"

From the May 1, 2002 issue

Last week in Indianapolis, the National Patient Safety Foundation held its Fourth Annenberg Conference, Patient Safety: Let's Get Practical, with about 700 people in attendance. While so many worthy topics were covered over the course of three days, an unmistakable theme emerged: Patients and Family. Indeed, by the end of the conference, it became clear that we need to renew our efforts to fully engage patients and families in the healthcare experience, not just as victims of disease or injury in dire need of our expertise and care, but as equal partners on a level not previously imagined just a decade ago.

While involving patients in their healthcare may seem straightforward, even intuitive, the speakers at the Annenberg Conference helped sketch out the challenges that we face in achieving this goal:

  • We won't be able to engage patients and families in their healthcare and safety unless it's a top priority, fully supported by senior leadership.
  • We won't connect with our patients on a personal level unless we are willing to share our personal stories with them. Likewise, we won't really know our patients unless we take the time to listen to their stories - not just their medical stories but their personal stories, too.
  • We won't empower our patients until we include them and their families as equal members of our interdisciplinary clinical teams, actively participating in patient care and the decision-making process.
  • We won't improve our patients' adherence to a jointly developed plan of care unless we provide good instructions and make even the most complex of processes clear and easy to follow.
  • We won't earn our patients' respect unless we treat them with dignity and pay attention to the "inner patient."
  • We won't earn our patients' trust unless we disclose our errors. We won't feel comfortable disclosing errors until we change our culture. Our patients won't listen to us unless we begin to tell them what we are doing about the problem of medical errors.
  • We won't demonstrate our moral responsibility and just accountability for medical errors until disclosure is accompanied by a fair offer of compensation for injuries, not through the litigious avenues currently available to patients and families, but through thoughtful consideration of the financial burden placed on the victims of an error and a sharing in that burden up front.
  • We won't truly show compassion to patients and families until we can offer them emotional, physical, spiritual, and psychological support in the wake of a sentinel event.
  • We won't be able to motivate all patients to engage in their own healthcare and safety without providing them with the knowledge to do so and strong encouragement from programs like the Joint Commission's Speak Up: Help Prevent Errors in Your Care campaign.
  • We won't have time to engage our patients until we improve efficiency and safety of our systems and free our workforce to carry out human tasks, most importantly, talking to patients and their families.
    We won't be able to give patients what they really want unless we ask them what they want.
One of the closing speakers at the Annenberg Conference summed up the patient's perspective by noting a quote that was posted in a hospital lobby, "Nothing about me without me." Let's follow this wise advice.
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