Patient Engagement Seen as Key Defense Against Harm in Health Care


The number of preventable deaths hasn’t changed in 10 years

Safety and quality improvements are the focus at 6th International Conference on Patient- and Family-Centered Care in Vancouver, B.C., August 6-8, 2014

Vancouver – For all of the progress made through advanced technology, procedures and medications, the health care system itself may often pose a risk to patients.  One reason?  According to the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare (CFHI) Improvement, it’s because we are not involving patients enough in their own care.

What are some of the forces screaming for change?  Consider that 10 years ago, research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on adverse events (AE) found that 7.5 per cent of patients admitted to Canadian hospitals suffered an “adverse event” (AE), with AEs defined as unintended injuries or complications arising from health care management that resulted in death, disability or prolonged hospital stay.

Ten years later, despite improvements in some high-risk settings, it is not clear the situation has improved.  The 2004 research reported there was 185,000 admissions associated with an adverse event, with roughly 70,000 of those deemed potentially preventable.

“We have made progress, but we haven’t achieved what we hoped we would, which is to substantially reduce risk,” says Ross Baker, the author of the 2004 research and Lead Researcher on CFHI-funded Patient Engagement Research Projects. “We need to invest much more in designing health care as a complete experience.”

“Until we engage patients and families in conversation, we will miss the true extent of the harm that’s happening across the health care system,” adds Jim Conway, former COO, Dana Farber Cancer Centre and an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and a foremost authority on patient safety.

The views of Baker and Conway will be echoed by their fellow presenters and delegates at the 6th International Conference on Patient- and Family-Centered Care: Partnerships for Quality and Safety taking place in Vancouver, British Columbia, August 6-8.

The conference is hosted by the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care, in partnership with the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI) and Providence Health Care of British Columbia.  It will showcase innovative programs dedicated to collaboration – among health professionals, patients, and families – to change organizational cultures and improve the experience and outcomes of care. “What is unique about this conference is the majority of sessions are co-presented by health care professionals, patients and family members,” says Marie Abraham, Senior Policy and Program Specialist for the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care.

Other research, including a recent paper in the Journal of Patient Safety states that the number of premature deaths associated with preventable harm to US patients is more than 400,000 per year.  These methods were different from previous research but the result is four times the estimate made 15 years earlier by the Institute of Medicine in the US.

Meanwhile, health care systems in both countries are seeking ways to not only improve safety and quality, but also to increase efficiencies, responsiveness and patient satisfaction.  While patient and family engagement isn’t the only factor in driving such improvements, it’s increasingly recognized as one of the key ingredients. “Patients perspectives are unique; they see things the clinician doesn’t,” says Baker.

“Patients and families are first on the scene,” adds Conway.  “They are able to detect harm more than clinicians, because it’s happening to them.”

Listening to patients and families, viewing them as active partners in care plans and decision-making, empowering them to be in control of their care, seeking their input on organizational and health system policies, involving them in service and system design – all are seen as vital to better and safer outcomes.

The examples being presented at the conference are encouraging, and much more is needed, says Baker who is also a professor in the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto.  He says that emerging evidence suggests that patient engagement can translate into both patient and organizational improvements, including patient safety and effectiveness. 

However, the mechanisms that convert patient engagement into such outcomes are still not well understood.  Conway says that although more active involvement of patients and families can bolster safe practice, many health organizations are still struggling with openness and transparency – especially when something has gone wrong.

“Listening to patients and families, viewing them as active partners in care plans and decision-making, empowering them to be in control of their care and seeking their input on organizational and health system policies is a key strategy to improving patient safety and quality” says Stephen Samis, Vice-President, Programs, Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI).

More than 300 experts will present at the 6th International Conference on Patient- and Family-Centered Care.  They represent hospitals, primary care, specialty ambulatory settings, community-based programs, public health and mental health agencies, patient- and family-led organizations, schools of medicine, nursing, and other health and helping professions


For more information, contact:

Elissa Freeman (For CFHI)
Cell: 416.565.5605

Holly Roy (Publicist, Western Canada)
Cell: 780.991.2323