Julie Gelsing, a volunteer patient experience advisor at Red Deer hospital, gets some input from a patient (contributed photo).

Volunteers become patient advocates in new program at Red Deer hospital

Patient experience advisor program is set to grow in the region

Volunteer “advisors” are stepping up to advocate for patients, providing another level of care at Red Deer hospital.

Patients are loving the chance to talk to seasoned hospital volunteers about their stay, to be able to ask questions and share their anxieties, said Karen Tingley, manager of clinical quality improvement in the Central Zone of Alberta Health Services.

The local hospital’s Patient Experience Advisor program started last fall and is already so successful it’s being considered by other health care facilities in the province, including Drumheller and Rimbey hospitals.

Tingley said the benefit of talking to well-informed voluntary patient experience advisors is these discussions are generally more relaxed and informal than if patients tried to button-hole busy members of the medical team.

“Sometimes when a stethoscope enters a room, it can be unnerving,” added Tingley, who knows people often forget to ask all their questions before a doctor or nurse leaves to deal with other patients.

So far, 10 Red Deer hospital volunteers have been selected to become patient experience advisors at the Regional Red Deer facility. Julie Gelsing has been in this role since January and considers it “very rewarding.”

She feels she’s providing an important service by regularly approaching people during their hospital stay to ask how things are going?

Gelsing, who volunteers on Thursday mornings, is prepared to walk short or long-term care patients through various procedures, and to get answers to their concerns from the medical team.

Knowing that some patients are reluctant to speak up, she will ask them to identify their pain level, on a one to 10 scale, to ensure they get painkillers, as needed.

Sometimes people aren’t clear about about their medication. Gelsing recalled one diabetic woman wrongly supposing she should bring her own insulin from home. Gelsing told her that nurses will administer her insulin from the hospital’s supply.

When a male patient revealed that his roommate would be away working after his release, Gelsing notified nurses so home care could be arranged.

Having been a kidney disease patient, herself, as well as a palliative care volunteer, Gelsing said she has a lot of empathy, as well as knowledge about the hospital.

Since she’s studying for her master’s degree in psychology, she believes her volunteering helps stretch her people skills. “I find out what’s most important to patients and I work through to find out what their needs are.”

Tingley said the program that originated at Red Deer hospital is set to grow in the region.


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