Reports From the Field

Families as Care Partners: Implementing the Better Together Initiative Across a Large Health System



From the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care, Bethesda, MD (Ms. Dokken and Ms. Johnson), and Northwell Health, New Hyde Park, NY (Dr. Barden, Ms. Tuomey, and Ms. Giammarinaro).


Objective: To describe the growth of Better Together: Partnering with Families, a campaign launched in 2014 to eliminate restrictive hospital visiting policies and to put in place policies that recognize families as partners in care, and to discuss the processes involved in implementing the initiative in a large, integrated health system.

Methods: Descriptive report.

Results: In June 2014, the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care (IPFCC) launched the Better Together campaign to emphasize the importance of family presence and participation to the quality, experience, safety, and outcomes of care. Since then, this initiative has expanded in both the United States and Canada. With support from 2 funders in the United States, special attention was focused on acute care hospitals across New York State. Nearly 50 hospitals participated in 2 separate but related projects. Fifteen of the hospitals are part of Northwell Health, New York State’s largest health system. Over a 10-month period, these hospitals made significant progress in changing policy, practice, and communication to support family presence.

Conclusion: The Better Together initiative was implemented across a health system with strong support from leadership and the involvement of patient and family advisors. An intervention offering structured training, coaching, and resources, like IPFCC’s Better Together initiative, can facilitate the change process.

Keywords: family presence; visiting policies; patient-centered care; family-centered care; patient experience.

The presence of families at the bedside of patients is often restricted by hospital visiting hours. Hospitals that maintain these restrictive policies cite concerns about negative impacts on security, infection control, privacy, and staff workload. But there are no data to support these concerns, and the experience of hospitals that have successfully changed policy and practice to welcome families demonstrates the potential positive impacts of less restrictive policies on patient care and outcomes.1 For example, hospitalization can lead to reduced cognitive function in elderly patients. Family members would recognize the changes and could provide valuable information to hospital staff, potentially improving outcomes.2

In June 2014, the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care (IPFCC) launched the campaign Better Together: Partnering with Families.3 The campaign is is grounded in patient- and family- centered care, an approach to care that supports partnerships among health care providers, patients, and families, and, among other core principles, advocates that patients define their “families” and how they will participate in care and decision-making.

Emphasizing the importance of family presence and participation to quality and safety, the Better Together campaign seeks to eliminate restrictive visiting policies and calls upon hospitals to include families as members of the care team and to welcome them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, according to patient preference. As part of the campaign, IPFCC developed an extensive toolkit of resources that is available to hospitals and other organizations at no cost. The resources include sample policies; profiles of hospitals that have implemented family presence policies; educational materials for staff, patients, and families; and a template for hospital websites. This article, a follow-up to an article published in the January 2015 issue of JCOM,1 discusses the growth of the Better Together initiative as well as the processes involved in implementing the initiative across a large health system.


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