Improving mental health services? If all else fails, ask the patients

I’m just back from a two-hour discussion with a table full of adolescents. They’re all in outpatient mental health care at our hospital. We were asking for their views about how to make care better. The questions we asked them were something like:

  • How are we getting in the way of you getting better care?
  • If we could change something about your world that would help you get better, what would it be?
  • How can we get more of your thoughts about how we do things?

We do this when we can, but we feel like we haven’t done it enough. It is always helpful. The kids have good ideas. Even better, they are often ideas that don’t come up in discussions among clinicians.

There is no substitute for conversation if you want to de-center from your point of view. Surveys have their place, but surveys answer your questions. What I want to know is what someone else thinks is an important question. For that, you have create a situation in which they can speak and you will listen.

I suppose this is obvious. However, you would be amazed how rarely patients are at the table when doctors are talking about how to improve the quality of health services.


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