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Humanising healthcare starts with stories

Update from Quality Improvement

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Bev Fitzsimons

This week's quality improvement blog is by Bev Fitzsimons, head of improvement at Point of Care Foundation.

At the Point of Care Foundation, our mission is to humanise healthcare. This means building stronger relationships between people using services and those delivering them, and paying attention to staff experiences too.

In pursuing this mission, we recognise much common ground between our work and the Care Opinion community. We both want people to share their experiences of health and care in a way that leads to learning and change. We both seek honest and meaningful conversations between people who are using services, and those providing them. And fundamentally we both believe that sharing stories can help make services better.

One story is that of Kieran Sweeney, a doctor whose experience of being diagnosed with a terminal illness transformed the way he understood patient care – and informs our thinking still. Our Sweeney programme includes various ways in which we pursue patient-centred quality improvement work. For us, this means looking at care through the lens of the experience of patients, and then acting in response to that experience to improve all domains of quality.

These methods work, and have an evidence base behind them

Why, when there are so many improvement techniques available, do we pursue these methods?

Well first and foremost, these methods work, and have an evidence base behind them. We also find that approaches built on collaboration between staff and people using services are the ones most likely to be absent, or dismissed as “soft stuff”.

And yet as we all know, patients, service users and families have expert knowledge about their experiences. Often they are the only ones to see the whole picture of what happens and to fully understand their experiences. Most importantly, they are the only ones to understand what their experiences mean to them, and which outcomes are most important to them.

Although care can be technical and complex, people using services and their families have no difficulty spotting waste and inefficiency in the system. They quickly recognise activities that add no value to them – which must surely be the standard against which to assess value in care. Indeed, they are the ones most affected by the care they receive, and have the right to be involved. It’s simply the right thing to do.

Stepping away from industrial analogies in improvement work is hugely powerful

What is often overlooked, however, is the impact this sort of work has on the staff who provide care. Stepping away from industrial analogies in their improvement work, and allowing themselves to see care through the eyes of people using them, is hugely powerful. It reconnects staff strongly with their motivation for entering the caring professions in the first place.

One of our participants described how “the relentless drive to be efficient in target-based healthcare culture totally missed the point of caring. This was my antidote”.

At our conference in March, “Making healthcare more human”, we’ll be hearing other stories – from patients and carers – and exploring further how to strengthen the relationships between those providing care and those receiving it. After all, it’s these stories that enable us to pursue our mission to humanise healthcare.

The Point of Care Foundation conference, ‘Making healthcare more human’ is on 28 March 2018 in London. To register for a place visit the Point of Care Foundation website.

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