Patient on the MEC

Posted on Feb 16th, 2008 at 9:00am.

Patients and families are increasingly being invited into places and conversations that have historically been off limits to them. Many leading-edge organizations now invite patients to sit on improvement teams, include families on rounds, and seat patients on hospital committees. But one hospital has gone where no other hospital has gone before, at least with patient empowerment. St. Joseph’s PeaceHealth in Bellingham Washington now has a patient as a full member of the Medical Executive Committee of the organized medical staff!
According to Marla Sanger, VP, Quality and Process Improvement, the MEC at St. Joseph’s decided to try this out over a year ago, and asked a patient to sit in on the MEC meetings, but to excuse herself whenever the MEC needed to perform a peer review or some other sensitive function. After a few months, the physicians on the MEC started forgetting to ask the patient to leave. And after a year, they made the “Patient Representative” position a permanent feature of the MEC!
The report from Marla is that the presence of the patient has changed the conversation at the MEC. Topics that might have been prominent on the agenda in the past (such as interdepartmental squabbles about privileges, or perhaps being paid for call) just don’t seem to come up as often, and instead, the MEC focuses squarely on its primary function: what needs to be done to improve quality and safety for patients.
Has anyone else done this? What has been the experience? I’ve been asking around and have found no other examples, so I’m curious to know whether you’re aware of others who have placed a patient on the MEC. From my perspective, it’s the most dramatic example yet of “putting the patient in the room.”

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