Don’t Count Me Out – How Family Members Can Help Improve Patient Experience and Outcome

Don’t Count Me Out – How Family Members Can Help Improve Patient Experience and Outcome

By Angela Fieler

Sitting by my mom’s hospital bedside recently, I was struck by the impact COVID has had on patient-family-caregiver relationships. The healthcare team never stopped caring for patients – they’ve been working long hours, short-staffed, and in life-and-death circumstances. Physically separating families from patients was the right decision, no matter how heartbreaking. Speaking personally, I can say that I felt left out and that, even though I’m back in the building, I still feel like an outsider. It’s a shame as family members can help improve patient experience and outcome. Kris Baird of Baird Group recently wrote about the importance of engaging families of patients.

The family member’s experience matters


For family members, being allowed to physically return to the bedside is great but that’s not enough to make me feel included.  I also need to be considered and involved. What do I mean by “be considered?” Here are two examples. One day, a staff member got on the elevator and she had an airline neck pillow attached to her bag. I asked her if she was going on a trip after her shift and she said, “No. I just get bored at work and figure if I’m going to fall asleep, I might as well be comfortable.” My loved one was dependent on everyone who works in the hospital. This staff member considered how that made me feel.

On a different day, I was joined on the elevator by three physical therapy team members. One of them was complaining very loudly about having to provide physical therapy to a patient with dementia. She said, “I don’t know why we bother. It’s not like he has any clue what we are doing and why.” Imagine how heartbreaking that was for me. I am the daughter of a patient who has dementia and was undergoing physical therapy as part of her care plan. I spoke up and calmly let them know my mother was a dementia patient. One can only hope that my candor helps them to remember that they are on stage and that their words leave a lasting impression.

I want to be involved in my mother’s care. I want to be part of care team. I am Mom’s healthcare proxy and am an integral part of improving her experience and outcome.

Over the last week, I have made a point to be there at change of shift to be part of bedside reporting. I’ve asked a lot of questions and provided as much information as possible for what’s “normal” for Mom.  It was hard not to get frustrated when some nurses chose to step out of the room to do their report. I tried to take it in stride when, during a different change of shift, one of the nurses asked me if I was a nurse. There was no doubt in my mind that if the answer was no, she would say I should be quiet. When I responded, “This is my mom and I manage her care every day. If we work together, we can get her what she wants most, is to come home.” I received a sheepish “Oh…” in reply. The questions I was asking represented what every patient and family member would want to know, no matter our occupation.

I needed answers to the following: What do you, as a healthcare team, need to see before she can go home? What in today’s care plan will help move her closer to that goal? How can I help?

When patients and family members complain about what they hear or ask questions about the care plan, don’t get defensive. Instead, think about what they are going through.

Some people might think a family member’s perspective isn’t that important. AHRQ would disagree. In  Guide to Patient and Family Engagement in Hospital Quality and Safety | Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality ( you can read more about the benefits of keeping patients and family members engaged, informed, and included.

In her article about empathy, “Here comes another…” How to Boost Empathy by Saying Goodbye to Judgment – Baird Group (, Kris Baird talks about the how judging a patient or family member can impact your ability to demonstrate empathy. She proves how family members can improve patient experience and outcome.

To learn more, contact Baird Group for more resources on improving the patient experience.

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