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A dramatic—and positive—shift in health care is fostering quality, safety and accountability. Silos are breaking down and communication is improving, the result of a growing partnership between patients, families and care teams.  At MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, and across the MedStar Health system, Patient and Family Advisory Councils for Safety and Quality (PFACQS) have become the driver for effective change to reduce medical error and increase quality of care.

In 2013 a small team of MedStar Georgetown associates gathered together to jump start the process, and create a charter for the council.  The charter puts structure to the belief that the key to better medicine is practicing honest communication between providers and patients, full discloser about the risks and benefits of treatment—and promoting the value of shared-decision making.  

Building the council has been a three-year project that included a careful assessment of the care environment and a year-long, vetting of applicants from among a number of interested MedStar Georgetown associates and members of the hospital’s community of patients and families.

The result of this slow and deliberate interviewing process is an energetic group of diverse individuals who have made a personal commitment to the council’s mission.  “Once in a lifetime you see a group of people come together with such success,” says Lisa Boyle, MD, vice president for medical affairs and chief medical officer. “It’s been an honor to watch them work.”

“The landscape of health care has changed,” says Eileen Ferrell, MSN, BSN, chief nursing officer. “We now know that encouraging patients and families to be active participants in their health care is critical to improving satisfaction and outcomes.”

By fall 2014, the council had met for the first time, enthusiastically debated topics of interests and soon established a set of ambitious goals:

  • Provide ongoing feedback to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital that evaluates and seeks to improve patient safety, quality of care or patient service issues.
  • Assist MedStar Georgetown University Hospital to continually improve the quality, safety, and efficiency of services it offers the patients and families who seek care at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
  • Strengthen communication and collaboration among patients, families and other non-professional caregivers, and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital professional staff and associates.
  • Promote information sharing between MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and the patients, families, and community it serves.
  • Aid in establishing MedStar Georgetown University Hospital organizational priorities in response to patient, family and community needs.

The goals are the broad strokes of projects the council has undertaken to develop a “high reliability organization,” says Boyle.  “In health care, there are many opportunities for missteps but also for making real and positive change. The MedStar Georgetown PFACQS has proven that a group of committed, like-minded people can create an environment that fosters free and open dialogue, trust and a culture of excellence.”