ORLANDO — When Lori Paul was asked to take part in the design of Nemours Children’s Hospital, Orlando, Fla., she expected to be given a menial task, like picking paint colors. Years later, the mom — a family advisory council member whose son suffers from cystic fibrosis — has played a critical role in the creation and continued operation of the $400 million facility.

Patient engagement has been one of the ongoing themes of HIMSS14 this week and nowhere was that more evident than a panel discussion and tour of Nemours for conference attendees Tuesday. Patient input has shown up at Nemours in every fashion, from the types of chairs used in rooms, to who should win out in the search for a new hospital executive. Some 85 percent of the employed physicians met with the family advisory council at some point during their recruitment, says David Milov, M.D., chief of clinical informatics at Nemours.

“It’s one thing to have parents in on all the meetings, and patting them on the head and saying, ‘Oh, thank you very much,’ ” he says. “It’s another thing to have them interview every single faculty member and have them stand up and say, ‘I thought that candidate was a little arrogant.’ ”

Tuesday marked five years since the groundbreaking of the LEED Gold-certified facility and Nemours continues to tweak its vision to better serve its customers. The place is so attuned to what would please the patient, I was practically ready to move into one of the 95 beds in the 630,000-square-foot facility. There are hookups for video game systems to be played on each room’s flat-screen TV, a teaching kitchen gives patients a chance to learn about cooking and healthy eating habits, and upstairs windows overlook a picturesque campus. A paramedic is on duty 24/7 monitoring patients’ vital signs in a logistics center on campus, ready to pounce at any moment, as happened to the McCarthy family during this episode.

When parents were unable to see their children in bed while using the in-suite bathroom, Nemours added mirrors to the backs of restroom doors to respond to the concern. Meanwhile, the ceilings are free of reflective surfaces so as not to frighten tiny patients when they see their mirror image covered in tubes.

“To me, what’s emblematic about partnership and patient- and family-centered care is as an organization, if you continue to keep yourself open to hearing feedback from families, you improve the process,” says Michael Campbell, director of patient and family centered care at Nemours. “I think that that mirror is a really wonderful symbol of an ongoing dialogue we have with the patient and family.”

Of course, health IT, and specifically the EHR, plays a key role in engaging patients to improve care, and the field is improving. HIMSS’ 25th annual leadership survey, released earlier this week, points out that about one-third of those surveyed said they are providing patients with secure online access to their information. That’s up from just 12 percent in 2010.

Watch for continuing coverage of HIMSS14 Thursday, including remarks from the speeches of CMS’ Marilyn Tavenner and ONC’s Karen DeSalvo, M.D.