This Patient Experience Week, our Consumer Engagement and Co-Design Manager Laura Griffin shares her personal experience listening to people share their healthcare stories and how this can lead to positive change.
When I was a little girl, I dreamt about becoming a writer. I love the experience of immersing myself in someone else’s story and allowing that to change the way I see things. Spoiler alert – I did not become a writer, but I did become the keeper of other people’s stories, thanks to a decade working in public health.
Throughout my career, I have chosen roles focused on patient experience, complaint management and consumer engagement. When I was 23, I became a complaints manager in an adult hospital for the first time. Many of my friends, family and colleagues thought it was a bizarre choice for me to do such a "negative" job. Especially as I am a deeply feeling person.
When meeting people for the first time, their faces often dropped when I answered the question, “So what do you do for work?”. But I mostly enjoyed the role and felt that the work was very important. When someone has made the effort to reach out about their healthcare experience, speaking to someone who cares can make such a difference.
Being the keeper of patient stories
I felt privileged to be trusted with people’s stories about the worst moments of their lives. I also found this very challenging. I was lucky to have a supportive manager who taught me so much about how to hold space for other people’s stories, while also looking after myself. During this time, and over the eight years since, I have learnt a lot about the power of storytelling in healthcare and how this can create change.
If you ask any healthcare worker, they will tell you about the impact the people they have met and cared for have made on their lives.
I have met hundreds of patients, parents, carers and family members who have connected with me for the sole purpose of sharing their stories. Some are about processes, and many are about waiting for something. Some are about communication with staff members; some are quick stories, told lightly; some are long stories with so much emotional weight that the burden of hearing it weighs heavily on me. Some are wonderful stories, full of thanks and praise for staff, and some are not.
Almost every single person, while talking about a negative experience, has said, “I’m telling you this because I don’t want it to happen to someone else”.
Stories are life-changing
Many of these stories have helped to create the health system change that patients hoped for. Some were small changes, such as updating a poster, or a staff member reflecting and saying sorry. Some were big changes, such as refurbishing an entire mental health ward.
Hearing someone’s story directly from them is a life changing experience. I carry the relationships I have built with patients and families with me. I have learnt to be a stronger advocate for those more vulnerable than me. They have taught me to be more patient, which is something that does not come naturally to me.
I will note here that I am not perfect, and I have received people's stories clumsily, many times. I've said the wrong things, apologised and made amends at those times. It is a skill that I'm still working on.
In my current role at the Agency for Clinical Innovation, I am responsible for leading the co-design program, and consumer engagement in partnership with our amazing Patient Partner, Liz Newton, and Acting Aboriginal and Cultural Diversity Engagement Officer, Jessica Smith.
Co-design is fundamentally the practice of designing with people, not for people. Planning and designing services with people that have experience of the problem or service means the solution is more likely to meet their needs. I’m extremely passionate about co-design and am very grateful for the opportunity to use my experience working in partnership with patients and families and influence change at a statewide level.
How you can make a difference
If you are interested in doing more to improve the consumer or patient experience, simply start by engaging with consumers. You can lead by doing. Listen deeply to what matters to patients, value and seek out diversity and advocate for engagement from ward to board.
This Patient Experience Week, I also encourage you to think about how you work with consumers, the stories you’ve heard from patients and carers, and how they have changed the way you do things.