HAP Blog

Patient and Family Engagement: Recovering from the Pandemic

Part 3 of 3

June 29, 2021

In the final post of a three-part blog series, HAP explores the importance of considering the impact of and strategies to engage patient and family engagement through: visitation policies during and after COVID-19, diversity and health equity, patient and family advisory councils, and the health of our health care heroes.

Patient and Family Advisory Councils

Patient and Family Advisory Councils (PFAC) provide a proven approach for health care systems and practices to partner with patients and families to provide guidance on how to improve the patient and family experience. As a result of the pandemic, hospital PFACs no longer were able to meet face-to-face.

Nimble hospitals pivoted to holding virtual PFAC meetings, and patients and family members were able to provide input into COVID-19-related issues. While virtual platforms can remove barriers of travel, time, and child care, some barriers remained: even tech-savvy people can struggle with technology, not all networks work all of the time, and children and pets have a tendency to demand attention at the worst possible moments.

Going forward, some hospitals plan to use a hybrid approach to PFAC meetings of in-person and virtual gatherings in order to continue to capitalize on participation.

The Impact to Health Care Workers

Research shows there is a vital link between employee experience and patient experience. Employees who feel supported will be more engaged, which leads to higher quality care and a better patient experience. A unique characteristic of the COVID-19 pandemic has been that many frontline workers experienced relentless and demanding patient care responsibilities, while—at the same time—worrying about their health and the health of their loved ones. This physiological and emotional distress has left its mark. Acknowledging and being responsive to health care workers’ and hospital teams’ experiences during a worldwide pandemic fundamental to person-centeredness.

This pandemic has been the “ultimate stress test” for the health care system and we must make sure that our health care staff and professionals receive whatever care they need to heal as we move forward. Thoughtful hospital leadership, transparent communication, and resources to support wellbeing go a long way toward healing troubled hearts and minds.


The health care patient and family engagement (PFE) principles that we support and work so hard to put in place before this crisis will remain essential. At the same time, COVID-19 has revealed cracks and systemic weaknesses that still need to be addressed. Moving forward in health care, we need to:

  • Reinstate responsible access and visitation policies that balance clinical and personal needs
  • Address the systemic issues that undermine our capacity to support the health and well-being of all persons
  • Engage PFACs in pandemic-related efforts with flexible meeting platforms
  • Address the realities of being a health care worker in these times and create a culture of caring for staff

HAP’s work on patient and family engagement in the hospital setting has not halted during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, contact HAP’s PFE project manager Janette Bisbee, who continues to work with hospitals to provide patient-centric care by providing an educational and informational platform while addressing COVID-19 questions, experiences, barriers, and concerns.


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