AC Patient Surveyors are now playing an active role in Surveyor training

May 31, 2021

Accreditation Canada (AC) is now including patient surveyors as part of its surveyor training.

In 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, AC made the decision to move its surveyor training online. “The virtual training has now replaced the three-day in-person training that all surveyors go through and also, patient surveyors are now part of the training process,” said Heather Thiessen, a patient surveyor for AC.

AC patient surveyor Heather Thiessen on survey.

Thiessen noted that patient surveyors are important for health organizations and the accreditation process as they offer an element that can often be overlooked in health care improvement initiatives – the voice of patients and families. “Patient surveyors have that lived experience expertise, allowing them to better relate to patients and families while on an accreditation survey,” she said. “A lot of the walls come down for patients when I explain that I’ve been in their shoes.”

Thiessen is a patient and a seasoned user of the health system, having been in and out of the hospital for more than 30 years. She lives with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Myasthenia Gravis (MG), which are both chronic neurological conditions. Thiessen said she decided to become a patient advisor and a patient surveyor after a negative experience at a hospital.

Thiessen noted that due to her own experience, she understands why patients can be apprehensive about discussing the quality of their care during an accreditation survey. “They are scared that if they say something wrong, the quality of their care could be compromised.” Thiessen added this is where surveyor training becomes important. “It’s looking at how to build a trusting relationship with patients and alleviating some of that fear,” she said.

Thiessen noted that when interacting with patients and families, a surveyor or health practitioner’s words and actions matter. “It’s the importance of getting down to the level of the patient and having empathy,” she said. “It’s in your words and your actions. It’s in your attitude towards patients and families. You have to ensure they feel safe and that their voice will be heard without causing any risk to their quality of care.” Thiessen added these elements are key to obtaining important information from patients and families that will lead to quality and safety improvement for health and social service organizations.

Thiessen said that by going through various scenarios, the surveyor training offers a safe space for people to learn how to interact with patients and families, who hold a wealth of knowledge through their lived experience.

She noted that it’s important for health organizations to see patients and family members as an active part of the care team. Thiessen added that many organizations are still trying to figure out how to effectively add patients and families to this role.

“It’s not about just checking a box to say that you’re including a patient/family in the work that you’re doing,” she said. “It’s looking at how to find meaningful engagement and to acknowledge that lived experience expertise, which is such a gift to organizations.” She adds that this is valuable feedback that helps to improve quality and safety for future patients and families.

Thiessen has been an AC patient surveyor since 2018. She said she feels “privileged” to be part of the survey team.

“I have been that patient who is scared and who has been harmed by the health system,” Thiessen said. “To be able to give back to an organization such as AC, which monitors safety and quality improvement in healthcare to ensure standards of excellence are met, that helps me heal as a patient.” Thiessen is also a patient leader for AC’s partner organization, Health Standards Organization (HSO).

AC currently works with 17 patient surveyors. More patient surveyors will take part in surveyor training in the coming months.

Are you an experienced health professional? Consider becoming a surveyor for AC. Learn more and apply here.