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What is a Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC) and why would you have one as part of a healthcare software company? These were the questions asked of me as I proposed this idea of creating a PFAC for our organization back in 2020. As a nurse executive making the transition from healthcare delivery to healthcare software, it was a mystery to me why everyone didn’t have one. I had grown accustomed to having these sage counselors at my side as partners in change, improvement, and design. For those of you unfamiliar with the role of a PFAC, the Institute for Patient and Family Centered care defines a PFAC as a “group of patients, families, community members and organizational leaders who work together to bring the unique perspectives of patients and family into organizational operations in the spirit of improving care.”

Commonly, healthcare software companies use focus groups to evaluate new products, test user experiences, and evaluate workflows. These focus groups are typically sourced for that one time experience to give the developers, project managers and engineers feedback. These types of user groups continue to serve an important role in software testing and development; a totally different role than that of our PFAC members. Our PFAC at HealthSparq is much more than a focus group and the first of its kind to be embedded into a healthcare software company.

Serving as trusted advisors is the main role of our PFAC. This group of eight professional patients and/or family members were recruited in 2021 and have been meeting quarterly with executives and leaders from across the organization. They are a very diverse group of individuals with a wide variety of healthcare experiences from across the United States. Their approach to feedback is different because early on they are exposed to all of our products, our strategies, and in-depth knowledge of the problems we are trying to solve for members, providers, and health plans. They come to the table with this knowledge and that is overlaid with their real life experiences as patients and family members.

In this first full year of our work with the PFAC their feedback has significantly impacted the development of many HealthSparq features and products. Some examples include:

  • Treatment Timelines: This feature offers education for patients to help them better understand their timeline to complete care treatment. The PFAC members were able to clearly outline the pieces of information that they valued for this feature to better understand their care and associated benefits. The product team was then able to use this information to future develop this feature.
  • Guidance: The Council members were given a demo of early stage development of new guidance features to better help patients use our search tools to find the information about their options for care. The feedback from the PFAC led to quick changes in the development of this feature which will ultimately better support all member users.
  • Digital Healthcare Journeys: The PFAC gave our product team feedback on a wide variety of digital tools that they use in the health plan space to find out information about providers, care options, coverage, and costs. The information was then used to establish future directions for our products that could bring more value to patients and families and ultimately providers and health plans.
  • Race, Ethnicity, Gender Identity: The PFAC has also engaged in fairly sensitive conversations around what information they would like to access about their providers. Our DEI team had an in depth discussion related to surfacing race, ethnicity, and gender on provider profiles. They universally agreed that they are more concerned about their provider’s philosophy of care, how they connect to their patients, and their expertise as opposed to these discrete identity data points. They ultimately helped us craft our data integrity and philosophical approach to the use of this data within our platforms.

Our PFAC has been an amazing addition to our company, product development, and strategic planning. Their insights will, without a doubt, ultimately benefit all of you, your plans, and the members that you serve. You can learn more about the individuals serving on our PFAC here.