Vanderbilt Takes Patient Engagement to a New Level

Advisory Councils Are Involved in Hiring, Governance, Quality Measures

By Jennifer J. Salopek

In times gone by, “patient engagement” may have meant focus groups about waiting room design or surveys about food offerings in the cafeteria. Vanderbilt University Medical Center has taken patient engagement to a new level with the creation and work of its Patient and Family Advisory Councils (there are two: one for adult services and one for children’s services).

The advisory councils were convened to participate actively in the development of policy, programs, services, and strategic plans. Their mission is to address People, Service, Quality, Growth & Finance, and Innovation to optimize the patient experience. Patient experience is defined as “the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care;” Vanderbilt has created a Chief Experience Officer role.

Mary Ann Brown Peugeot is a Nashville CPA who serves as chair of the Adult Services Patient and Family Advisory Council, which was created six years ago. The group, which holds a two-hour meeting over dinner monthly, assembled a wish list of desired changes at its initial meeting and has worked its way through the list methodically. Both Peugeot and her husband were nominated for membership by their doctor.

“I have seen a lot of positive change in the hospital over the past six years,” Peugeot says. “Before, doctors and nurses always had the say about care; patients weren’t invited to be a part. We were accepting of that because we didn’t see any other way. The status quo was maintained because we didn’t speak up.”

One of the council’s major achievements was a total revamp of the entire patient education process, including the development of a patient handbook that exhorts, “If something does not seem right to you, or you want further explanation, speak up! Asking is the answer.”

“The patient voice is always heard now,” Peugeot says.

Key to the success of the councils has been access to and true collaboration with hospital leadership. Of the chief executive officer, chief nursing officer, and chief experience officer, one or two always attend council meetings. David Posch, CEO, has said, “I consider the Patient and Family Advisory Council to be my trusted advisors.”

Other issues the group has worked on include the institution of 24-hour-a-day visiting hours, even in the ICU; a redesign of the online patient portal; the introduction of a secret shopper program; a redesign of the surgical experience; a rewrite of the surgical informed consent form; and more. Peugeot and her pediatric hospital counterpart presented a poster on their successful initiatives at the International Institute for Patient and Family Centered Care meeting in Washington, DC, in June 2012. Their work is in pursuit of a single goal: to create a patient experience that sees the patient as the most important member of the health care team. The council currently is working to develop a “Vanderbilt Promise.” Following the outlines of the Always Events concept (“We will always…”), the promise—currently in draft form—will emphasize “outward focus” and “accountability,” according to Peugeot.

“It’s not just lip service,” she says. “There is a true acceptance of our input and a team spirit. Hospital administration has listened to us. We work very hard as volunteers, but I am more engaged and involved than ever.”

—Jennifer J. Salopek is a professional writer and editor who serves as managing editor of Wing of Zock. She can be reached at

0 thoughts on “Vanderbilt Takes Patient Engagement to a New Level

  1. Nice reporting. Vanderbilt is to be congratulated. Maybe the times have changed enough for ideas like this to take hold.

    When I was Dean at the University of Oklahoma Tulsa Medical College a generous donor helped us found (in 1978) what I think was the first Geriatric Ambulatory Care Center in the country. F. Daniel Duffy, MD, then Chair of Medicine and Clinic Director, and now Dean at Tulsa, assembled a similar panel of patients to advise him and the clinic staff. There is nothing like listening to the customer, except acting like a customer and listening to the staff, to help improve clinic performance and patient satisfaction. Few institutions do enough of either.

    James E. Lewis, Ph.D.