Case Study: WACHS Kimberley

The Western Australia Country Health Service (WACHS) Kimberley is working with Patient Opinion to gain insights into what they are doing well and what can be improved on. Maureen Crowther the Regional Patient Opinion coordinator provides details on WACHS Kimberley’s experiences with Patient Opinion.

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What is your role within WACHS – Kimberley?

I am currently the Regional Patient Opinion coordinator for the Kimberley and the Acting Clinical governance support officer.

How are you currently using Patient Opinion?

The Kimberley encompasses 423,517 square kilometers which is twice the size of Victoria and three times the size of England! Our population is dispersed around remote areas and towns with 40% being Aboriginal.

We were the first area in Western Australia to access Patient Opinion allowing us to demonstrate we are actively listening to the people that use our service.

We are currently half way through a 12 month trial project with Patient Opinion. Patient Opinion runs alongside our existing compliments and complaints model as another platform for patient feedback. Having Patient Opinion demonstrates that we are open and transparent to feedback with our consumers. We ultimately aim for quality improvement by changing, reviewing or modifying our practices. We generate monthly reports for regional executives meetings where the feedback is discussed and distributed across Kimberley WACHS. Monthly newsletters are emailed out to our Patient Opinion champions to be distributed amongst their teams.

What has been involved in using Patient Opinion? Has it involved a lot of work?

Initially it involved a lot of work with the promotion of Patient Opinion, setting up alerts, responses, education, communication plans, promotional material and also becoming familiar with the site and the process.  The use of VC communication was extremely useful for reaching far away areas. We spoke to basically anyone that would listen about Patient Opinion including our staff, consumer groups, local radio and local papers. The initial investment of time pays off in the long run, however with a fast turnover of workforce, constant monitoring of education and support is vital. We now incorporate Patient Opinion into the regional orientation program, allocating a 15 minute time slot within the consumer feedback section.

Patient Opinion requires constant monitoring and providing motivation and enthusiasm to  support the staff. Sometimes following up on a complaint can take time and effort to unravel the details and commitment from all staff and management is definitely needed. There really needs to be a designated full-time or equivalent (FTE) to the position as incorporating it into another position is not sustainable if you want to get the best experience and results from engaging with Patient Opinion. I am fortunate enough to have a small amount of FTE allocated, however other regions have had to incorporate the position into an existing role.  

Have other staff members been involved in this?

Basically I did the “roll-out plan” on education and promotion of Patient Opinion for the Kimberley. We have a project manager in Albany who has been very supportive and helpful with Patient Opinion. We started with fortnightly meetings but now have them monthly between us, Mid-West and Albany, the three pilot sites that came on board early this year.  

The Kimberley was the first region to commence using Patient Opinion and sharing that roll-out was very helpful to other areas.

The Patient Opinion staff was also very helpful to me during that time, especially Craig with the IT support which definitely helped me navigate my way around the system. The project manager was also very helpful with loading shared documents onto our intranet so that all the information is assessable for staff. This information included our response protocol, hyperlinks to Patient Opinion, governance and responsibilities, evaluation reports and promoting Patient Opinion.

What do you value most about reading people’s stories?

I value hearing people’s experiences of their health care that they received and seeing how the health care was delivered through their eyes. It is important for us to identify what is working well and what improvements can be made so that we can make a change to improve the patient experience. It’s also great to read patient’s gratitude and appreciation.  

How do you make sure patients at the clinics know they can leave feedback?

We make sure that staff are educated regarding the Patient Opinion process. We encourage staff to carry Patient Opinion business cards in their pockets to hand out at opportunistic moments. We also have Patient Opinion promotional materials available at the clinics.  These include posters on the walls and a full size Patient Opinion banner in the foyer of each of our hospitals.

Staff are encouraged to assist patients were necessary, acting as their advocate to access Patient Opinion online and promoting the 1300 662 996 phone number, however most staff are time poor and find this as one more thing to do.

Most patients post their story after discharge, where they have had some time to reflect on the experience and compose their story.

Do you think using Patient Opinion has had an impact on WACHS – Kimberly? For both the staff and patients?

Yes, definitely. Although it can be confronting coming to terms with the open and transparent communication it is definitely beneficial for the improvement of health services. Staff also responds well to hearing good news stories and patients/advocates feel as though they “have got something off their chest” or expressed their genuine gratitude on a medium where a lot of people will be able to see it.  However, it is proving to take the full twelve months for all the staff to become aware and comfortable with using and advocating for Patient Opinion.

We are constantly thinking of creatively processes to capture our Aboriginal client’s feedback that is culturally and socially acceptable. Our Aboriginal Liaison Officers (ALO ) and interpreters are a vital link in the communication  chain but are a  “thin” resource on the ground.  

WACHS-Kimberley always responds to feedback very quickly. What drives you to be so responsive?

To demonstrate that we are listening to our patients! If someone has taken the time to write a story to share then they are genuinely interested in getting a response. Patient Opinion is an excellent medium for us to be able to provide people with a timely reply which is what I would like if I was the patient.

Have you had any critical feedback? If so, how have you handled it?

As of yet we have not received any critical feedback above three on the criticality score. Stories have been mainly positive or scored low criticality levels.

The  stories we have had with a criticality score of two or three always receive an initial response and acknowledgement and where appropriate, a request to contact us either by phone or email (numbers and address provided) so we can discuss the matter in more detail. Some consumers choose this option, while others are satisfied with an email acknowledgement and a response that we are listening.

We then investigate the event, and follow up with an action. The consumer is kept informed during the process with two way conversations until an amicable outcome is achieved.

What have you learnt from using Patient Opinion and what would you say to other health services considering subscribing?

We have learnt that “there are always two sides to every story!” Patient Opinion is an excellent platform to demonstrate your partnership with the people that use your service. It is a chance to be able to investigate processes and modify them if required, contributing towards an improved health care experience. This then becomes a visible two way process.