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Council is a New Voice for Patients and Families

September 08, 2017

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Every day at The University of Kansas Health System, hundreds of patients and families provide feedback about their care in a variety of ways. But now there's a new group serving as the formal voice of inpatients and family members – and members aren't shy about letting their voices be heard.

They're called the Patient and Family Advisory Council. With approximately 20 participants, the group kicked off monthly sessions in May at the Westwood Campus. About half the participants are patients and family members who were invited to participate because of their familiarity with our hospital and support of its mission. This is a new group that's separate from the patient advisory councils focused on ambulatory clinics.

The other half of the council comprises front-line staff from the health system. Their involvement is designed to provide perspective to the discussions, enhance their empathy for patients' and families' concerns and provide the council's feedback to the health system's unit-level committees.

"We get a lot of patient survey data, but it's important we also establish a two-way dialogue," said Rebecca Moburg, RN, director of patient and family-centered services, who leads the council along with continuum of care director Colleen Booz Dittrich, LMSW.

"It's a dynamic group representing different walks of life," she added. "But one thing is very apparent: Everyone has the same intent. They want to do this because they believe in what we do."

Getting down to business

The council's initial session in May was devoted to procedural matters, including introductions and discussions about the group's structure and goals. In June, council members brainstormed all the key issues they wanted to tackle. They were encouraged to especially consider low-hanging fruit – the most obvious, easiest concerns – and write down their ideas on Post-It notes.

The result? The council members filled 56 notes in all.

Indeed, the council's public members are eager to contribute. Some talk about the need for phone chargers in waiting areas, while others want expanded morning quiet times in patients' rooms.

"I love the fact that your hospital wants to be the best, so I was really honored when they asked me to join the council," said Wendy Melland, council public member. "I believe in this hospital for Kansas City. You're doing a lot of great things."

To her, the council is not about "sitting around complaining and saying, 'Here's what's wrong,'" Melland said. "I feel, with my family's experiences here and at some of the best hospitals in the country, we have a lot of insight to share about what's good and unique."

Parking and food

During the July session, there was no shortage of questions and creative suggestions about two hot-button topics: parking and food. Over the course of 90 minutes, council members discussed ideas for discount rates for long-term parkers and those who need quick "in-and-out" parking. Several members pointed to parking perks they've noticed at other hospitals. Some suggestions included a "pay it forward" option available for parking fees and kiosks in the lobby to pay for parking.

The council also reviewed ideas generated at previous meetings. Moburg, for instance, explained how the health system's recent practice management software transition will help streamline the number of bills patients receive and shorten their time to see physicians. Both of these issues had been raised at earlier meetings.

In the July session council members also met with Jeff Novorr, vice president of support services, who took questions about food quality and cafeteria operations.

One family member suggested ways to shorten the customer line at The Roasterie Café. Others asked about the need for healthier options, extended hours for inpatient room deliveries and more variety for allergy-sensitive customers. Novorr fielded each question deftly, discussing changes on the horizon while acknowledging the economic realities of a large hospital cafeteria. It serves 4,000 meals per day while the kitchen must consider inpatients' dietary restrictions.

Novorr was so impressed with the council's engagement that he started working with a sub-committee of the group on some of the changes.

Best practices

The council isn't a new concept for hospitals. In fact, Moburg said our group was modeled in part after successful programs at other facilities, including Brigham and Women's in Boston and Children's Mercy in Kansas City. Additionally, she and Booz Dittrich also studied healthcare agencies' best practices about the programs. "We wanted to take the best of what's out there but also make it our own," she said.

The structure is evident. The council's discussions are well-organized, and members receive action items to research and report back at the next session. Public members will serve staggered terms for a year or two each. The goal: rotate new members in over time without overhauling the entire group at the same time.

So far it's working as planned. In fact, the council already has more ambitious issues in mind. "This group is purpose-driven and passionate. Our vision is to evolve to the point we're looking at patient satisfaction and care delivery," said Booz Dittrich, who notes members even have talked about participating in medical and nursing student education.

Next on the agenda: patient safety.

Regardless of where the council goes from here, the motivated group already is yielding important insight for health system managers and staff.

"This is a wonderful approach to gathering constructive feedback about the way our hospital delivers care and communicates with patients and families," Moburg explained. "As we continue to design buildings and new patient processes, we want to make sure we're getting perspectives different from those of us in healthcare."

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