Meet our Patient Surveyor: Heather Thiessen

May 16, 2018

Heather Thiessen, patient surveyor at Accreditation Canada (AC)

Heather Thiessen, patient surveyor at Accreditation Canada (AC)

“The reason that I do all the work that I do is for that next patient who is coming into the system. I’m worried that they may not have a voice.” – Heather Thiessen, patient surveyor at Accreditation Canada (AC)

Since February 2017, AC and its affiliate Health Standards Organization (HSO) have been working together to put people – patients, families etc. – at the centre of everything we do.

Patients are now playing full, active roles as HSO patient partners and are part of our Technical Committees, which develop world-class standards.

On the AC side, patients are now active members of the accreditation survey team. AC has 14 trained patient surveyors who have been available to participate on accreditation surveys as of March 2018.

Heather Thiessen is a patient and a seasoned user of the health system, having been in and out of the hospital for the past 30 years.

In an interview, Thiessen explains that she lives with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Myasthenia Gravis (MG), which are both chronic neurological conditions.

“From 1998 to 2009, I’d go to the Emergency Department in respiratory distress every six months,” Thiessen says. “Then, I would go to the ICU and be on a ventilator from two weeks to two months. That was my life for about 10 years.”

Thiessen notes that she decided to become a patient advisor and patient surveyor following a negative experience at a hospital, where she found herself completely alone.

After a disagreement with a physician, Thiessen says her husband was unfairly escorted out of the hospital.

“I was lost because my main support person was gone,” she says. “The physician had written him up and I was not allowed to be visited by other family members.”

She notes that during her time alone, she had lots of time to think.

“I started to think about other patients and whether this was also happening to them,” Thiessen says. “I had incidents with doctors not wanting to listen to me in the past, but this was a bigger issue. Having your main support person taken from you is the worst thing that can happen.”

She says that when this incident took place, the province of Saskatchewan was in the process of its Patient First Review, which focused on moving the health system to a Patient- and Family-Centred Care (CFCC) model.

“They started looking for patients to be a part of that journey, and that’s when I started to get involved,” she says.

Thiessen notes that she’s been a patient advisor in Saskatchewan for about nine years. She adds that she was excited to hear that AC was beginning to work with patient surveyors.

“Organizations need patients to tell them what they are doing well and where they can improve,” she says. “As patients, we can be part of the answer and help to create new pathways.”

Thiessen was the AC patient surveyor for Island Health (VIHA)’s most recent accreditation survey from April 15-20, 2018.

“I was very well received – right from the minute I arrived,” she says. “Everyone was so happy to see me and to know that I was on the survey.”

Thiessen notes that patients – either as advisors or surveyors – are assets to health organizations, as they hold a wealth of knowledge as users of the health services that are provided.

“Patients are hidden gold that has yet to be tapped into. We can make amazing changes together,” she says.

For Thiessen personally, she says that being a patient surveyor has brought back a sense of purpose for her.

She notes that she used to work as a long-term disability adjudicator. Due to her illness however, she could not continue working.

“It’s difficult to be somebody with a good work ethic and who wants to do something, but you are not able to,” Thiessen says. “It’s given me a purpose again, and it’s great to know that I’m helping so many other people.”

She says that as a patient surveyor, she is an asset because she is constantly using health services. Thiessen notes that due to her health conditions, she must visit the hospital each week for treatment.

“I still talk to other patients and I hear about the issues that are happening,” she says. “It’s not a one-time experience for me. This is a continuous journey.”

Thiessen adds that the accreditation process is important, as it helps health organizations be at their best.

She says accreditation means that an organization is looking at the improvement of a number of important aspects, such as patient safety.

“It’s comforting because you know that the organization is striving for excellence,” Thiessen says. “As a patient, I want the best care possible when I go to the hospital. I want to be safe.”

Thiessen adds that she is thankful that AC and HSO have recognized the value of the patient voice.

“The real focus is always placed on the patient, and on how that perspective can be included throughout the standards and the accreditation process. It means the world to me,” she said.

Want to know more about how AC patient surveyors can benefit your organization’s quality improvement journey? Discover 5 Benefits of Patient Surveyors.