PINEHURST – Katie Dunlap knows about FirstHealth of the Carolinas services. She has used or observed them many times, and every experience has been a good one.
Now, when friends and relatives learn about Dunlap’s FirstHealth connection, they sometimes share their stories with her. While most have been just as positive as Dunlap’s own, an occasional one will highlight an area that needs improvement.
As co-chair of FirstHealth’s Patient & Family Advisory Council, Dunlap realizes that it takes a knowledge of both the good and the needs-improvement experiences to create an atmosphere that contributes to FirstHealth’s goal of the “exceptional patient experience.”
“I want everybody to have a good experience,” she says.
Debbie DeLong feels the same way. The administrative director of FirstHealth Physician Recruitment and Hospitalist Services, she is Dunlap’s co-chair on the Patient & Family Advisory Council.
“There is not a story without both sides,” DeLong says. “If you learn to use these stories effectively, you have one of the best tools for change.”
Many Patient & Family Advisory Council members have personally used a FirstHealth service during the past three years while others have witnessed the FirstHealth experiences of relatives. Still others are physicians or FirstHealth employees.
All were chosen because of their familiarity with FirstHealth and for their willingness to share their stories in an effort to assure the best possible experience for every patient.
“As health care providers, we have the best of intentions and we do a really good job,” says DeLong. “But there is room for improvement, and we want to hear directly from patients and families to learn how we can provide the most extraordinary patient experience every time.”
Several FirstHealth experiences brought Dunlap, who lives in Star, to the Patient & Family Advisory Council. Each encounter was in its own way a positive one, but she acknowledges that can’t always be the case.
“I also hear from people who didn’t feel like they have had good experiences,” she says.
According to DeLong, Patient & Family Advisory Council members work as “partners” with FirstHealth physicians and employees to share information and work toward the common goal of an exceptional experience for every patient. Council representation comes from Moore, Montgomery, Richmond and Hoke counties.
“The whole team becomes a conduit of information,” says DeLong. “I think everybody on the council is doing that, to be sure that this information is flowing freely among the partners.”
On Tuesday, Nov. 5, the Patient & Family Advisory Council held an anniversary luncheon to commemorate two years of achievements. Council members were joined by special guests David Kilarski, FirstHealth chief executive officer; Julian King, chair of the FirstHealth Board of Directors; and board members Carolyn Helms and Rusti Welch.
All shared their appreciation for the council’s commitment to FirstHealth and its mission to care for people.
Although organized just two years ago, the council has embraced its advisory role and made an impact in several areas. An early success involved signage at the entrance to the Emergency Department at Moore Regional Hospital. After council members expressed concerns about the sign’s visibility from Highway 211, a FirstHealth team worked with the Village of Pinehurst to rectify the situation with a larger sign and enhanced lighting.
At the invitation of FirstHealth’s ED Quality Committee, council members visited emergency department waiting rooms and made suggestions regarding cleanliness, literature and other areas based on their own observations and customer feedback.
A notable achievement involved changes to FirstHealth protocols on staff interactions involving patients with dementia. Now patients diagnosed with any form of “altered mental status” (from the temporary confusion associated with an acute illness to Alzheimer’s disease) get an identifying gray armband and their mental status is documented in their patient record.
As the protocols were being introduced, Melanie Bunn, a recognized expert on the care of patients with dementia, was engaged to conduct staff training on improved ways of communicating with and caring for this special patient population. She also presented a communitywide seminar for caregivers of people with dementia.
Pinehurst resident John Barrett, whose wife has Alzheimer’s disease, represented the Patient & Family Advisory Council on the FirstHealth task force that looked at the issue.
“FirstHealth should be very proud that it is one of the first hospitals to take significant steps toward becoming ‘dementia friendly,” he says. “While I think efforts may still be required on a single issue or two, on the whole I am extremely happy with what has taken place and how it fits so nicely with the charter of the Patient & Family Advisory Council.”
With the roll-out of the “exceptional patient experience” initiative throughout the FirstHealth organization early this year, the Patient & Family Advisory Council has directed its advisory focus at issues ranging from parking to the patient registration process. Every effort is recognized and appreciated.
“This group is critically important to helping us accomplish our mission ‘to care for people,’ especially when they provide us with a recent patient experience and health care consumer perspective,” says Brian T. Canfield, chief operating officer of Moore Regional Hospital. “In order for us to provide an exceptional patient experience to all of our patients, we need the Patient & Family Advisory Council to help us continue to refine and improve our processes and procedures from pre-admission to discharge and follow-up clinical visits.”
Members of the FirstHealth Patient & Family Advisory Council serve three-year terms that are renewable for a second three years. For more information, call Debbie DeLong, council co-chair, at (910) 715-1486.