AF Medical Service engages patients with online toolkit

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — The Air Force Medical Service has launched a new online Patient and Family Engagement Toolkit aimed at engaging patients and their families and providing a “one-stop shop” for all the different ways patients can better partner with their healthcare provider.

This toolkit can help patients learn how to better prepare for medical visits, speak up when they have questions, and take charge of their health.

“The patient should always be in the driver’s seat,” said Col. John Oh, chief of Preventive Medicine for the Air Force Medical Support Agency. “With the way technology is changing and the amount of information that’s out there, they really can be even more in control of their information. I think the biggest thing with the toolkit is we’re trying to change the culture.”

The team behind the site has big plans to improve it as time goes on. Oh said they want to add videos, blogs, contests, and whatever else they can to keep people engaged with the toolkit and the resources available.

“I know there are a lot of patients out there who have good stories to share that can help other patients and other families — things that they’ve done that went well or things that didn’t go very well. We’re hungry for the stories that are out there.”

There’s a link on the site called “Share Your Story,” that encourages patients to contact Col. Tim Stevens, the project officer for Trusted Care Patient Centeredness.

Stevens said, “Somebody may be afraid to speak up or doesn’t really know if there’s much value in that. If somebody else shared their story related to speaking up and there was a good health outcome, it might be something that motivates them to do the same if they needed that encouragement.”

One goal of the site is to continue to make Military Health System data on quality, safety, access, and patient satisfaction more available for patients. Right now there is a lot of data available online, and they plan to find ways to enhance the ability to sort that data going forward.

Oh also emphasized that it’s important to ask questions. He recently had a patient ask him about her lab results she had looked up at TRICARE Online. The question ended up being rather insignificant, and she felt embarrassed at the end of the visit. But when she mentioned her “silly question” to him, he said it wasn’t silly at all.

“They’re your labs. You should ask questions. You should never feel embarrassed or ashamed or feel like you’re taking up someone’s time,” Oh said. “Obviously you can’t come with two dozen questions, but you should always bring up at least a few as well as anything you’re curious about.”

He said it’s important that patients know this site isn’t just for them. It also applies to all of the AFMS because it’s a statement of what providers and other AFMS staff should value.

“We want to encourage patients to get involved,” Oh said. “There’s even a section called ‘Help Improve the System.’ It could be something as simple as filling out the Joint Outpatient Experience survey because we look at that data.”

Military treatment facilities also regularly have volunteer opportunities for patients that include bringing them in as advisors or serving on committees. Oh said he wants to see more patients “raising their hands” for those experiences.

“We can just go ahead and make improvements ourselves, but I think we’ll be more effective if we get patients and families to provide their input and make it better. We designed the toolkit to provide really simple, concrete actionable information. We think it’s the kind of information people can really use for their benefit or their families’ benefit.”

The Patient and Family Engagement Toolkit is now available online and includes links to outside resources and advice on ways to get involved in your personal healthcare.

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