New Patient, Family, Staff Advisory Council improves patient experience for RadOnc

by Diane Drago, PFCC Advisor

The University of Michigan Health System has seen the development of more than 30 Patient Family Centered Care (PFCC) advisory councils and boards. One of the most recent—and rapidly growing—is the Radiation Oncology (RadOnc) Patient Family Staff Advisory Council. Created in October 2014 to meet the unique needs of RadOnc patients and families, it consists of 10 faculty/staff members and six patient/family advisers that meet monthly.

Kristan Freitag, a child life specialist in radiation oncology, and Joumana Dekmak, the radiation therapist supervisor, coordinate the council. Working with very engaged faculty and staff, Freitag and Dekmak bring a variety of projects to the patient/family members, who help prioritize them. Patient and family members also bring their concerns to the council, which has led to projects as well. Freitag shared that the key objective of the RadOnc Advisory Council is to “increase the patient and family voice at every step of the way in their journey.”

Patient member, Kate Balzer, has been very impressed with the commitment of the council coordinators and faculty/staff members. “Members of the RadOnc care team really planted the seed for this group! The fact that they are actively seeking patient and family voices shows a real commitment to patient- and family-centered care. It has been really rewarding as a patient to learn more about their work and how we can collectively improve the experience.”

Bringing the unique perspective of a young adult patient (25 years old at the time of her treatment in 2013), Balzer has already seen changes in patient- and family-centered care as a result of the council’s work. Early on, questions were posed to the patient/family members by the faculty and staff members: How can we provide an environment that makes patients and families comfortable asking questions and making requests? What would have been helpful to know during treatment? The responses were many and varied and have already produced results:

  • Environmental changes: Waiting rooms in RadOnc were made more welcoming and patient-friendly. Patient and family members of the Council were involved in the design and even helped select paint colors. Balzer said this “makes a big difference when you’re checking in for your daily treatment.”
    Faulty and Staff Picture board in RadOnc

    Faulty and Staff Picture board in RadOnc

  • Faculty and staff picture board: Patient advisers shared that it’s difficult to keep track of all the members of the health care team, even though they see them daily during treatment. A Picture Board Committee was created and they are working with an artist to design a board that will help patients easily identify staff by name. It’s a simple change that will make a big impact for patients and families.
  • Dressing rooms: Steps are being taken to improve dressing rooms in small, but meaningful ways. Emptying linen bins more often and other modifications are underway.
  • In-service for residents: RadOnc is working to help their residents become more aware of PFCC practices.
  • E-advisers are invited to share their input, especially on educational materials such as videos and the RadOnc handbook.

The RadOnc dressing rooms before being renovated

The RadOnc dressing rooms before being renovated


The RadOnc dressing rooms after renovations

RadOnc has worked to reduce the anxiety many patients experience before and during treatment with other patient-centered approaches. Each room has an iPod with different types of music, guided imagery and books. A night sky is projected on the ceiling to help patients relax. Freitag believes “the best way to improve the patient experience is to individualize patient preparation and patient and family involvement throughout the treatment journey.”

The advisory council and the focus on patient- and family-centered care have obviously made an impact in a relatively short time, in large part due to engaged and active council members.  But, as Frietag said, “RadOnc physicians and nurses are very aware of our work and engage us.”  It is the collective efforts of all faculty, staff, patients and families in RadOnc that will continue to improve the future of patient care for those receiving radiation therapy.

Thank you to all of our RadOnc PFCC advisors and champions!


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