Offering the Patient's Perspective

Patient & Family Advisory Board provides new opportunity for input

Laura Galunas, Anne Marshall and Karen Hammelef
Laura Galunas, Anne Marshall and Karen Hammelef discuss the Cancer Center's new Patient & Family Advisory Board.

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On the day of her first appointment at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, Anne Marshall remembers pulling into the parking lot, nervous and afraid. She had been to the center many times before with her mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006; but pulling into the circle drive felt different when the breast cancer diagnosis was her own.

Then she met Cleon Abrams, a longtime parking attendant at the Cancer Center.

"I was surprised he remembered me," said Marshall, who is a social worker. "He just had this perfect smile and said, 'Be encouraged.'"

Those two words made all the difference to Marshall. Not only did they give her the boost she needed at that moment, but it led her to become more engaged in the Cancer Center and its efforts to provide the ideal patient care experience. Recently, Marshall was a member of a task force to establish bylaws for the Cancer Center's new Patient & Family Advisory Board. The board is designed to offer patients and families a formal role in providing input into the institution's initiatives and operations.

The new board furthers the Cancer Center's mission for providing patient centered care -- a movement whose motto is "Nothing about me without me" -- said Karen Hammelef, R.N., M.S., director of Patient & Family Support Services. Beginning this fall, the board will provide input on a variety of Cancer Center issues, including policies, facility design and educational materials.

"We want to make sure we have patient voices represented in a formal way to ensure that we understand the patient experience and that we're not speaking for them," Hammelef said.

For example, said Laura Galunas, M.S.N., R.N., a nurse manager in an inpatient unit on Level 8B of University Hospital, the nursing staff would like to include patients in discussions that occur at the end of every nursing shift to ensure the incoming nurse is up-to-date on the patient's status. The Patient & Family Advisory Board could help the nursing staff learn how this change will impact families, Galunas said.

"Only patients have the first-hand experience to provide that kind of information to us," Galunas said.

Jim Morgan, a Patient & Family Advisory Board task force member, said he thinks the board will allow patients and families to use their unique talents to help improve the patient care experience. Morgan, who is global director of body and stamping engineering for Ford Motor Co. and a sarcoma survivor, said his background allows him to provide ideas to streamline information management.

In the business world, he said, the companies that respond to customers' voices are the ones that succeed; the same holds true for health systems and patients.

"I have this desire to give back whatever I can to make other people's experiences as good as they can be," Morgan said. "Cancer treatment is an extremely tough thing to go through -- not only for the patient but for the whole family. If there's something I can do to improve that experience, I'm motivated to do that."

 

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Thrive Issue: 
Summer, 2011