The Better Together Campaign: Because families are more than visitors – they are partners in care

We are excited to announce that IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health has signed on as an endorsing organization for the Better Together campaign. The Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI), in partnership with the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care and other leading healthcare organizations across Canada, launched this campaign on November 10th.

The Better Together: Partnering with Families campaign encourages hospitals to adopt family presence policies that view family members as ‘partners in care’ rather than as ‘visitors.’ Family presence policies encourage patients to identify family members or friends they would like to have stay with them while they are in hospital. Hospital ‘visiting hours’ do not apply to these people.

What is family presence and where are we at in Alberta and across Canada?

“Family presence is an innovative approach enabling family and loved ones to more fully participate in patient care by being present for physician rounds and helping their loved ones with transitions in care,” says Stephen Samis, Vice President, Programs, CFHI. “Our polling shows that nine in 10 Canadians support family presence. We are encouraging hospitals to start a conversation with their patients, families and staff about making this change.”

Recent research conducted by CFHI shows that nearly half of Canadian hospitals have policies that are at least somewhat accommodating, with about a quarter of hospitals receiving top marks for having visiting policies that promote family presence and participation. Alberta is showing some great leadership here. Alberta Health Services South Health Campus in Calgary, for example, already has strong family presence policies in place.

Why is family presence important?

The bottom line is that patient and family centred care is not a reality if family are asked to leave when the patient wants them to stay. Benefits of family presence include better informed assessments and care planning; lower readmission rates; fewer medication errors and improved medication adherence; maintaining cognitive function in seniors; fewer falls and other accidents; improved coordination of care; reduced lengths of stay and emergency department visits; decreased patient and family anxiety; improved organizational culture; and improved patient outcomes.

We asked Michelle Stasiuk, who is a long time patient advisor with Alberta Health Services, currently at the Calgary-based South Health Campus, about her experience with family presence.

I have a chronic illness which means I use the health-care system in Calgary quite regularly. I rely on the expertise of my health care team in any given situation to help me get well and stay healthy. I also rely on my family and good friends to help me get through various situations in a hospital setting. My family brings a sense of peace and support, and the caring and love that they know I require. They are there to talk with and discuss things in relation to my care. They know my home situation and are aware of what I may be able or may not be able to handle when I am discharged from the hospital. They are able to help if I am heavily medicated. It is so helpful to have someone else to hear about options, test results, next steps, and other details.

I think the idea behind family presence is that a partnership is formed – a partnership where understanding and communication are key. If the partnership works, it will also hopefully take some of the load off of the nursing staff. In a situation where family presence is honoured, family members can do some of the simple tasks such as assisting with daily living, getting water, more blankets, etc.

I can speak from my heart as a patient who knows the enormous value of being able to have my family by my bedside. There is nothing of greater value in helping me get through a tough hospitalization than to be surrounded by the people in my life that love me.

Why is IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health supporting this campaign?

The Better Together campaign is an excellent fit with IMAGINE’s vision of “a health system that is designed and care that is delivered in partnership with citizens, achieving the best possible experiences and outcomes for patients.” This kind of partnership is the cornerstone of a patient and family centred health system.

Family presence brings this partnership to life at the care-giving level. In order for care to delivered in partnership with patients and families, families need to be welcome to support and participate in the care of their loved one 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We know that patients often want a family member or a friend to be with them when they are in hospital, so having the option to identify a friend or family member to stay with them makes the experience far better. Many health professionals recognise that families also often have valuable knowledge about a patient, knowledge that can contribute to better care and outcomes.

What can you do?

We encourage Alberta patients and families to speak with their local healthcare organization – such as hospitals and long term care facilities – about adopting a family presence policy, if they haven’t done so already. We all know that families are more than visitors; they are partners in care. Learn more about the campaign here If you would like additional support in approaching your local healthcare organization about this campaign, please contact us.

If you are a healthcare organization interested in adopting family presence policies, go to the CFHI’s website and take the Better Together Pledge. There are a number of free resources available to support healthcare organizations to implement family presence policies. Pledging organizations will be recognized on the website and have the opportunity to become part of an online learning community to share strategies, challenges and successes.