HAP Blog

Patient and Family Engagement: Recovering from the Pandemic

Part 2 of 3

June 15, 2021

In the second post of HAP’s three-part blog series, we explore 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.

COVID-19’s Impacts on Visitation

Restrictions on visitations were particularly difficult for patient and family engagement (PFE). Hospitals, which had to focus on suppressing the spread of COVID-19 and optimizing the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), had to close doors to all but essential personnel and limited or even halted family and caregiver visitation. As a result, patients went without the participation of family members in care decision-making, and as advocates for quality, psychological safety, and well-being. While mobile devices provided virtual communication, many patients were sedated and on a ventilator, unable to communicate. Tragically, many patients died without family or loved ones at the bedside.

It can be a harrowing experience for a loved one to leave a family member at the hospital door, uncertain when, or even if, they would be together again. Health care teams, already stretched thin and working tirelessly to save lives, did their best to update family members over a phone call, rather than at the patient’s bedside. While the calls filled the void of information, it did little to meet emotional needs or minimize the stress of both patient and family.

Hospitals are preparing to invite patients' families and caregivers back into the hospital without fear or restrictions. Now would be an excellent time to take the lessons learned from the pandemic and apply them to future plans to keep open hospital doors to family members and caregivers.

Diversity and Health Equity

Health equity is an integral component of a culture of PFE-centered care. Data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing health disparities, and shone a bright light on the intersections of race, ethnicity, geographical location, and socio-economic status. To address issues of accessibility as we roll out public access to COVID-19 vaccines, CMS has resources for health care providers for building vaccine confidence, addressing vaccine disparities, and answering patients’ questions.

Each hospital and health system must find its own ways to provide services to those who are disadvantaged. By recognizing inequities, health care providers acknowledge that the patient is a “person” first, while supporting education and empowerment builds trust and supports patient-centric care to meet individual patient needs. Ensuring that all patients are reached, especially those who are underrepresented, is critical as we move toward recovery.

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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