Patient and family engagement in health care represents a continuum of strategies and interventions that can occur at the bedside, in the boardroom and in the community. Partnering with patients and families has many cascading benefits related to health care quality, patient activation and the elimination of health care disparities.

The Health Research & Educational Trust has developed a comprehensive list of resources for developing and implementing patient and family engagement concepts and strategies. The resources are all designed to support hospital efforts to partner with patients and families.

Alignment with Organizational Goals

In a 2013–2014 national survey, about half of hospital CEOs reported that competing organizational priorities were a significant barrier to effectively engaging patients and families, along with the time needed to set up and implement advisory programs. Though it requires time, resources and effective leadership, patient and family engagement provides a return on investment and aligns with existing organizational goals and strategic objectives. Two helpful resources for implementing patient and family engagement strategies and overcoming barriers include the AHA guide “Engaging Health Care Users: A Framework for Healthy Individuals and Communities” and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s “Guide to Patient and Family Engagement in Hospital Quality and Safety.”

Patient and Family Engagement Topic Areas

HRET’s comprehensive list of resources on patient and family engagement is organized by 12 topic areas, including:

Leadership. Senior leaders can connect patient and family engagement to the hospital’s or health system’s strategic plan and mission, allocate human and financial resources and adjust processes and policies. The AHA guide “A Leadership Resource for Patient and Family Engagement Strategies” is one helpful resource.

Organizational assessments. Assessments — particularly useful for hospitals starting a journey to to improve patient and family engagement — can help hospitals and health systems to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement. Assessments also help leaders and staff to prioritize initiatives and evaluate progress at different levels throughout the organization. The AHA, Family Voices Inc. and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement offer appropriate assessment tools and inventories.

Patient and family advisory councils and committees. These councils and committees build and strengthen partnerships with clinicians and leadership to improve a health care organization. Resources from the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care are available to help hospitals and health systems develop processes to recruit and support patient and family advisers and sustain and advance councils and committees. Another helpful resource is “Partnering to Improve Quality and Safety: A Framework for Working with Patient and Family Advisors,” released by the AHA’s Symposium for Leaders in Healthcare Quality.

Quality improvement. In addition to asking patients for feedback via satisfaction surveys or patient and family advisory councils, hospitals and health systems should invite patient and family advisers to help solve problems and participate in decision-making at the unit, task force and board levels. The Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care offers a minitoolkit on this topic.

Shared decision-making. While shared decision-making between clinicians and patients could theoretically increase costs, current evidence related to surgery decisions suggests that the opposite is true. Several organizations, including AHRQ, offer information, mobile apps, patient checklists, tools and other resources to facilitate the shared decision-making process.

Reducing care disparities. When hospitals and health systems understand the variations in quality of care that different patient populations experience, they can develop culturally and linguistically appropriate services and targeted interventions to address disparities. “Equity of Care: A Toolkit for Eliminating Health Care Disparities” is one resource that supports hospitals' efforts in this area.

For more resources for hospitals and health systems in these and other areas of patient and family engagement, visit Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence at and the Health Research & Educational Trust at

Charisse Coulombe is a vice president, clinical quality, Jessica Blake McNab is a director of clinical quality, and Natalie Erb is a program manager, all at the Health Research & Educational Trust, Chicago.