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Patient partners bring a fresh perspective

March 25, 2013

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25 patient partners assist WellSpan practices and departments

From left to right, Ruth Beel, Dick Simpson, Lita Weikert, Dr. Aruna Chelliah and Dr. Brian Michael
Patient partner Dick Simpson, second from left, meets with staff members at WellSpan Endocrinology in Gettysburg. They are, from left to right, Ruth Beel, diabetes educator; Lita Weikert, senior practice manager; Dr. Aruna Chelliah, endrocrinologist; and Dr. Brian Michael, endocrinologist.

A fresh perspective can foster new ideas. That’s the premise of the Patient Partner Program.

Providers invite one or two patients for a behind-the-scenes look at their practice, and then seek suggestions for making it better. The program is an initiative of Aligning Forces for Quality – SouthCentral PA.

“Patient partners become part of a practice’s
quality improvement team,” said Kathy Hutcheson, consumer engagement coordinator. “Their role is to give the patient’s perspective.”

More than 25 patient partners currently assist WellSpan practices and departments, with more volunteers set to begin shortly.

They attend monthly staff meetings, participate in conference calls, and gather together quarterly to swap ideas.

“If a practice’s goal is to get 90 percent of their diabetic patients in for an A1C [blood] test, they will ask their patient partner, ‘What are some of the roadblocks you encounter when trying to come in for your test?’” Hutcheson explained.

She said the program currently focuses on diabetes patients, but will expand to include other groups.

Richard Simpson is a semi-retired contractor and the patient partner at WellSpan Endocrinology of Gettysburg. He said staff members have implemented a number of his ideas since he first joined them a year and a half ago, including one to upgrade the practice’s glucometers.

“They had these older models that took a long time and needed a lot of blood, so I took mine in and showed them how easily it works,” Simpson said. “It only takes about five seconds and uses very little blood.”

Once while away on vacation he ran into trouble with his insulin pump. After hearing his story, staff introduced an insulin pump information card, complete with help line numbers.

Commitment inspires patient

Currently, Simpson is helping develop waiting-room displays on the importance of good nutrition and regular eye exams. He said the commitment he sees each time he visits the office inspires him. “I had no idea how many patients they have,” he admitted. “Before this I couldn’t have imagined their workload.”

Anna Owings of McSherrystown echoed those sentiments. The retired home health worker has been a patient partner at Gettysburg Adult Medicine for nearly two years.

“Considering the number of patients they have and the amount of stuff that goes on behind the scenes, it’s just overwhelming,” she said.

Owings believes that health care’s future rests in better communication between patients and providers. She’s proud to be helping make that happen.

“We work with everyone—the docs, the nurses, the front office staff—so that we’re all communicating at the same level,” she said.