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UNC Rex Healthcare tapped its Patient and Family Advisory Council to advise on its new cancer center in Raleigh.
Who knows a hospital—and all its treatments, services and equipment—better than its patients? So when UNC Rex Healthcare was designing its new cancer center in Raleigh, they tapped its Patient and Family Advisory Council—a group developed in 2017 whose goal is to improve cancer care at UNC Rex Cancer Center—to advise on the patient experience and design features of the new building, which is opening on March 1.
As part of UNC Rex’s commitment to patient and family engagement, the PFAC—made up of roughly 80% former patients (of multiple ages and diagnoses) and 20% actively engaged friends and family members, as well as caregivers and a primary care physician—went on Gemba walks, in which they’d walk through UNC Rex locations and assess the appearance of the facility; talk to patients to get feedback; and gauge other aspects of the hospital in terms of operations, equipment, etc.
While actually forming a council is not atypical, “we’re using a council in the way that we have to actually go into the clinics to walk around with our patients to see the delivery of care,” says Dr. Susan Moore, president of UNC Rex Physicians, medical oncologist and associate professor, “which I think is a little more of a unique approach, and honestly where we got the richest information.”
Noting its significance in meeting patient needs, “I think [the council] is critical,” she adds, “because they see things differently than we do. We need them to tell us what we’re doing well and where we can improve. … in every single way I think that they can help us become better.”
The council inspired a lot of the choices made for the new UNC Rex Cancer Center. For one, members of the PFAC did not want individual infusion rooms where they’d be sitting in a room all alone for up to eight hours, but rather an infusion bay with half-walls between the chairs so that patients have a little bit of a separation but still have that ability to feel connected to others. These infusion bays are in contrast to the national standard of individual infusion rooms, so clearly those hospitals did not take the time to talk to their patients about what they really wanted, Moore says.
Sharon Delaney McCloud, director of Corporate Communications at UNC Health and a member of the PFAC, says the council also got to test-drive the chemotherapy infusion chairs themselves, as well as help choose tiles and paint colors that would be used throughout the building.
“It’s one thing to have a group that meets; it’s another thing to listen to that group,” says Moore. “You can check a box, but is it meaningful? Is the work you’re asking them to do meaningful, and are you truly incorporating that feedback? And I think that we are.”
Echoes PFAC member Kristie Kaufman-Rollen, “I’m not sure if all hospitals have that kind of council, but I think it makes a major impact that we actually go in and talk to people. I think having that Patient and Family Advisory Council is just a complete asset to the cancer center.”
There’s also a living room right when you walk into the cancer center, which features a fireplace, piano and a beautiful textile piece representing the warmth of oncology care—and some days you might find a furry friend sitting in there as well as part of UNC Rex’s Fur Friends program. Thanks to the PFAC, they also did away with iPad check-ins, as many older patients had trouble using them, and instead every patient will be greeted and checked-in by a real person.
“Every single detail was considered, and it just makes the whole experience more than world-class,” says McCloud. “Clearly what we’re doing is caring for the patient at its heart.”
And if all of these state-of-the-art patient-centered features weren’t enough to provide hope to UNC Rex patients, the new cancer center will also be located at the corner of Hopeful Drive and Blue Ridge Road. “It’s very exciting to have a new space that’ll be sort of our hallmark spot for growing oncology into the future,” says Emmeline Madsen, director of Cancer Support & Specialty Services, which includes the PFAC. “We want this building to be a longstanding place of warmth and care that people can think of in a very positive way.”
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