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Kathie Pothier of Diabetes Management Centre at Valley Regional Hospital and Heather Burton, member of the Kings and Annapolis Network of Patient and Family Advisors.

Patient family advisors and collaborative family practice teams create more welcoming experience for patients

By Margaret Angus


“Not all patients feel comfortable in a doctor’s office,” shared Heather Burton, member of the Kings and Annapolis Network of Patient and Family Advisors. 

“We know in order to have good patient experience, it starts with the first phone call and the first time you walk in.” 

That’s why this group of volunteer patient and family advisors (PFA) decided to host a workshop for office staff from local collaborative family practice teams and chronic disease teams in the summer of 2019. 

The session, offered twice to accommodate two groups of learners, focused on creating a more welcoming primary health care experience for patients. 

In the morning, PFAs and medical office staff shared their experiences in the primary health care setting.

The group talked about how empathy and understanding can help to improve the experience for both staff and patients.  

“We didn’t want to create an ‘us and them’ environment,” said Burton. “We talked about their experience and ours within the system.” 

Together, participants discussed challenges openly and respectfully and brainstormed solutions that would help create a more welcoming primary health care environment.

After taking the time to build relationships and understand one another’s perspectives, the group participated in START with Heart™ training, facilitated by Marg McClean, NSHA Talent and Organizational Development consultant. 

START with Heart™ is the first module in the Communicate with Heart™ service excellence training program created by the Cleveland Clinic and adopted by Nova Scotia Health Authority. 

The program, grounded in the power of empathy, focuses on simple actions that create a more positive experience for patients and colleagues.

Kathie Pothier attended that session. She was a booking clerk in Diagnostic Imaging at the time and now works for the Diabetes Management Centre at Valley Regional Hospital. 

When speaking of her former role as a booking clerk, Pothier said, “It was out-of-this-world with phone calls and emails.” 

“We could get 50 calls in the run of a day and a lot of patients were upset. We also had to respond to emails and go through requisitions and book appointments. I was struggling with patience.” 

Attending the workshop, which Pothier calls “a wow course,” helped her to put things back in perspective. 

“I had to really train myself to put my listening skills back in place and my empathy back in place.”

At the end of the session, PFAs asked staff to fill in a postcard with three things they had learned and would incorporate into their work going forward. 

These postcards were sent to participants three months later.

Pothier recently received her postcard in the mail. When she saw the self-addressed envelope she thought, “Why am I getting mail from myself to myself?”

As soon as she opened the letter, she remembered the commitment she had made to herself and to the patients she serves: to be patient and empathetic. 

“I was so shocked and so pleased to see that I had put what I wanted to put in place, in place,” said Pothier. “Patients are always in the forefront of what I do.” 

She is now committed to being “that person” that makes the experience “a little easier and a little smoother.”

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