As Lynne Blech reflects on the most rewarding points of her nine years in Patient and Family Relations at the Brigham, there are larger, community-centric events that certainly come to mind. But it’s the smaller, more private moments — sitting beside a patient or family member and listening to their concerns with kindness and empathy — that warm her heart the most.
“I feel that it is a gift when a patient is willing to provide us their feedback because it’s always a learning opportunity,” said Blech, an administrator on the 12-person team. “We always say we lead with curiosity and not judgment. When a patient comes to us to say that something about their experience fell short of their expectations, we want to know so that we can improve how we communicate and provide care.”
The Patient and Family Relations team, based in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families, partners with patients, families, faculty and staff to address positive or negative feedback about care quality and communication — working collaboratively with multidisciplinary teams to obtain diverse perspectives and improve the experience for all involved.
“At the Brigham, we strive to deliver the best care experience for our patients. But health care is big and it’s complex — and it is a human system — so while we most often exceed expectations, sometimes we fall short,” said Nivetha Paterson, interim senior director for Patient and Family Relations in Patient Care Services. “We want everyone to have an exceptional experience, and only by listening with compassion to patients, families and staff can we achieve the best outcomes.”
When patients and families share positive feedback about their experience, staff in the center also pass those comments the relevant care teams to ensure their contributions are recognized.
In addition, the Patient and Family Relations team provides training in effective communication and conflict de-escalation for clinical and nonclinical departments across the Brigham. The center also oversees the hospital’s Patient and Family Advisory Councils (PFACs), dedicated groups of patients and family members who provide feedback on various programs and initiatives.
Fueled by Collaboration
Although based at 75 Francis St., the small but mighty team covers all inpatient and outpatient sites across the Brigham’s main and distributed campuses. In addition to Blech and Paterson, the team consists of five patient/family representatives, three service coordinators, a project manager and a senior patient adviser.
In an average month, patient/family representatives manage more than 300 cases, which represent instances where Patient and Family Relations staff work to address a specific concern or support a request tracked in the team’s shared database.
But that number only tells half the story. Paterson and Blech estimate they and their team collectively field an additional 300 inquiries each month — connecting patients and families with the right resources when they call, email or walk into the center with questions about parking assistance, lost belongings, notary services and a large variety of off-the-cuff requests.
On any given day, the team might be helping a family member advocate for their quality of care concern or a former patient looking to reunite with a care team member with whom they had formed a special bond.
With such a wide range of service areas and tasks, collaboration with others across the Brigham is an essential ingredient in the team’s success, Paterson said.
“I don’t think you could do this job without collaboration,” she said. “We’re only one of many touch points a patient might have, so we try to make sure we interact with everyone on that patient’s or family’s journey.”
Katie Fillipon, MS, RN, OCN, FNP, associate chief nursing officer for Oncology and Medicine, said she has learned so much about mediating and resolving challenges from working with Patient and Family Relations. From her early days as a new nurse director a decade ago to her current role, Fillipon said she tries to model their “consistently impressive” approach in her own interactions with others.
“They are consummate professionals, they are the voice for patients and families who feel lost in our system, and they are tireless supporters of the care we provide,” she said. “Navigating a complex health care system is challenging for anyone, and I feel so assured that I can call on these colleagues to help guide our patients and families in times where they feel overwhelmed.”