Patient Family Advisor (PFA)


I wanted to share my new found role as a volunteer, Patient Family Advisor (PFA), at my local hospital.  Blogging about it is a great opportunity to build awareness about PFAs.  A PFA is a volunteer who provides advice from the perspective of the patient, family, caregiver or chosen support person in matters that relate to the patient.

The purpose is to serve as the voice of the patient and/or family member and partner with the hospital’s interprofessional team.  An interprofessional team is comprised of the various roles in the hospital like doctors, nurses, respiratory technicians, dieticians etc. The role helps to advise and support the direction the hospital wants to take that relate to the patient experience.  I understand that not all hospitals choose to have a PFA structure however many hospitals in North America do have them.

Basically, I get to provide advice from my perspective and sit on a council.  The council is referrred to as a PFAC, standing for Patient Family Advisory council.  In fact, I was asked to help start and co-chair a Medicine PFAC.  Although PFACs exist in various areas across the hospital as depicted in the picture above, we just recently started up our Medicine PFAC.   The image I embedded above was taken from my hospital’s website.  Some of the this information you will see on their specific hospital website:

Patient and Family Advisory Position Guide

I am still learning what is classified or included in the “Medicine area”.   In one of our recent meetings, we had a tour of the Intensive care unit which is considered “Medicine”. When I applied to volunteer, I had indicated I had direct experience as a patient in the Cancer area plus experience as a family member in the Cardiac area but was happy to help out anywhere they had gaps.  The interview team felt they could leverage my skills to help establish and chair the Medicine PFAC.  If there is anything I can tell you, if you become a PFA, you will feel supported every step of the way from the medical professionals you interface with and from the volunteer office personnel.

  I was also invited and participated in a Interprofessional workshop which was absolutely excellent and gave me a new appreciation of the caring people that work at my local hospital.  I also have been able to contribute my opinions to some of the projects that are being worked on within the hospital.   I have met individuals that helped me realize the “power” of the patient’s voice.  I decided to write a letter about my experience at the Interprofessional workshop and it was subsequently shared internally in the hospital..    I decided to copy it here for you to read…

PFA Member’s Perspective of the Sept 2019 SRHC’s Interprofessional Workshop
     About 7-10 years ago, I had a very bad impression of Southlake. I really don’t remember why I felt this way but I know anyone I spoke to in my neighborhood, shared the same feelings. Basically, I didn’t have any confidence in the hospital.  I went to lengths to avoid this hospital often asking any physicians I worked with whether they were affiliated.   About 10 years ago, I switched to a physician local to the area, only, out of convenience.  I worked from home frequently and it was easier to get to the doctor locally between meetings etc.   Even though my physician was ready to refer me to Southlake for a minor procedure, given my lack of confidence, I opted to go to Richmond Hill to avoid it.
    Happy to say, my impression has since changed.   Mostly because of experiences in 2012 in the cardiac ward and 2014 in the medicine ward, both for my husband and most recently in 2018 at the Cancer Centre for myself.     The resulting care and outcome of some serious life threatening situations helped me gain the trust I needed.  We were also made to feel comfortable and understood.  Although, there is always room for improvement, the care received was much better than I expected.  I felt we had the same caliber of care I would get from some of the well known hospitals downtown.
   Recently, I became a PFA Volunteer, and agreed to be a co-chair for the Medicine PFAC.  I am amazed by the support from the staff and other PFAC’s that have been in existence for years.  Although, we are still in the midst of operationalizing our council, we have been able to leverage some processes that have been beneficial for other PFAC councils.  I am already impressed by the support and inclusion from the staff at SRHC.   This to me, speaks volumes around their values and illustrates that they are truly committed to being responsive to the needs of patients and communities they serve.  Being a PFA has also helped me to get a much clearer picture and furthered my appreciation of the hospital.
When I was invited to attend the Interprofessional Workshop, I was excited for the opportunity and felt very grateful for the invitation.    I was thrilled that I was invited to stay overnight to fully experience the entire event just like staff.   I was also glad that the workshop was held away from the hospital setting because I felt it would allow all these dedicated personnel to remain focused on the workshop activities.   I have to say, it was refreshing to see everyone attentive and focused because in my corporate world, the majority would have been distracted by handheld devices.
I was glad to have met a few other PFAs from other councils as well as a wonderful team of health professionals.  Doing anything new with people you don’t know can be slightly unsettling, and it was also good to see that everyone was a little out of their comfort zone. I think this helped us all form a bond as we shared this in common.     Each activity allowed us to work together and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun.
Given various health experiences I have had over the years, I wanted to volunteer to make things better and give back.  I personally feel the biggest gaps are communication and coordinating communications between different healthcare providers, particularly if the patient is too sick to relay info or is just easily intimidated.   I volunteered to be that “voice” for the patient and thought the role of the PFA was perfectly aligned to help accomplish this.  Often your healthcare is only as good as the information described and communicated.   So, imagine my delight, when I saw firsthand that this workshop had activities that illustrated the importance of “communication”.
The exercise called “Creating Excellent Experiences for High Performing teams” was another example where I felt everyone was on a level playing field.  I could sense some nervousness when we were told we would do “improv”.  It ended up being a great exercise because it helped build confidence, courage, and allowed us to stay in the present moment.  I could sense the relief because the exercise was team focused and you were made to feel you were not alone.  Noteworthy, the workshop helped to get at the gaps but in a positive way.  For example, we also had an opportunity to demonstrate how a message can change, by performing a “live” demonstration of broken telephone.      In yet, another exercise we illustrated how a conversation can change based on the words used.  Staff said that using the word “and” versus “but” was more encouraging and positive.  When they talked about guiding principles for developing competencies to support a culture of interprofessional care, basically, a collaborative approach between health providers, patients and families, I was thrilled.  Another example of positioning the topic to encourage closing of gaps.
   During the workshop, there were regular check-ins to debrief each activity that allowed us to reflect on what we learned or felt.   This was particularly helpful and allowed me to witness the heartfelt commitment that the healthcare providers have for their patients.  Additionally, I was extremely moved by the “A day in the life of Dr. John Randle” and how he handles himself in difficult situations and to hear the supportive reactions of the staff.  I believe many of the exercises and activities helped people to reconnect to their purpose.  Each person was able to reflect on their role, see their value to the team and understand how they contributed to the big picture.  If anyone lost sight of their importance before the workshop, I would say they were reminded of why they do what they do during/after the workshop.
Lastly, there was opportunity for the table teams to take action and plan projects to make things better in their respective areas and the teams welcomed my feedback from a patient’s perspective.   It was great to know that plans were being made to make improvements to different processes/procedures to benefit both the patient/family and healthcare providers.
 I was pleased to hear this was the 8th workshop and truly believe these workshops are extremely beneficial to all that participate.  I honestly believe this workshop or something similar would make a great impact if it was rolled out across the entire organization. It would go a long way to support the values and vision of the organization.  I would strongly encourage any or all PFAs to attend to have the experience.   It will allow you to draw parallels from your own experiences, meet many different people and get an appreciation of other perspectives. This made me feel that Southlake is leading edge care and by my side.
I really would like to see this type of event expand and be built further and hope we can work together to make it happen.

If you want to volunteer as a PFA, you should refer to your local hospital website and see if it exists and determine if you meet the qualifications to become a volunteer.

On another note, I do have an up and coming day surgery on Dec 2nd at this hospital.  Nothing to serious but surgery none the less and part of my cancer journey.   Reason I raise this is because I have a feeling I will be able to leverage this experience as I am already encountering some communication gaps.   For example, in my surgery package, I have instructions for the following:

  1. Pre-register at the hospital prior to the surgical appointment
  2. Have my family doctor to complete a pre-operative history and physical exam (basically a piece of paper listing all my meds, allergies etc)

Sounds pretty standard, right?  Well, when I called the hospital, I got an automated message indicating they no longer “pre-register” patients.   Sounds like a change!  I called my Family doctor to set up an appointment to get my paper work filled out and am told this changed in October and they don’t do this anymore.    I laughed out loud.  Then I laughed louder when they referred me back to the surgeon’s office which I promptly said, doesn’t return calls.  After a couple of tries, my surgeon’s office left me a voicemail telling me they don’t have details yet…  I figure, OK, they have 3 weeks to figure it out!    Let’s hope everyone gets the details before I go under the knife.   Also, who is possibly the best person to fill out my pre-operative history?  I would have thought it would be my family doctor.   In any case, I see Dr. OK (if you have been reading earlier blogs, Dr. Ok is my family doc) for an exam next week and hopefully she will provide some insight.

I am positive it will get sorted out but if/when a process changes, surely they should communicate them clearly?!

Anyway, in my opinion, it is the little things that can change the patient experience!

I will keep you posted…


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