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Improving the patient experience at Essentia

The Patient and Family Advisory Council at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s includes (left to right) Brian Nelson, Amy Hochgraber, new member Anya Butzer, Trish Noyes, Dixie Johnson and David Fihn. Not pictured: Mary Frigstad. SUBMITTED PHOTO

About a year ago, a half-dozen community members began meeting monthly at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s in Detroit Lakes, as the core group of its newly-formed Patient & Family Advisory Council (PFAC).

Currently, its membership includes Dr. David Fihn, Mary Frigstad, Amy Hochgraber, Dixie Johnson, Brian Nelson and Trish Noyes.

The stated purpose of the council is for its volunteer members to share their insights and experiences as patients, and family members of patients, to help the EHSM physicians, staff and administrators improve their overall quality of care.

Its ultimate goal, said EHSM Quality Director Shawn Christianson, is “direct patient and family involvement in healthcare decisions.”

The group’s first year, she added, has been spent in educating the members on EHSM’s various departments and their functions, its electronic records system, My Health — which directly interfaces with patients, allowing them to schedule their own appointments and view their medical records, among other functions — as well as all the changes in insurance coverage that were wrought by the federal Affordable Care Act.

“For our second year, we are looking to expand our membership to at least twice our original size,” said Christianson — which means they are currently taking membership applications.

The group is also looking at developing its own work plan, membership bios and marketing initiatives.

In the next few months, they will also be doing “walkabouts” in three or four different EHSM departments, where they take an informal tour, looking at each department to determine where improvements can be made in making patients’ experience less confusing and more welcoming.

“We’ll be looking at the different areas from a patient’s perspective,” explained Jackie Buboltz, Essentia Health’s west region manager for organizational learning and development, who sits on the committee along with Christianson.

“Each one of us will be sitting on a different staff committee,” added PFAC member Dixie Johnson. “As I listen in, I will jot down the things I don’t understand, as a patient, and bring them back here (for review). I think it’s going to be really exciting.”

Brian Nelson said he thinks the most important part of their jobs on the PFAC will be to determine “how do we make the hospital setting more patient and family oriented, and make it more inviting for them.”

Trish Noyes added that another goal of the PFAC is to make the hospital and clinic facilities easier to navigate, especially for first-time patients and family visitors.

“We’re also trying to make the patient feel more empowered in their own healthcare decisions,” she added.

“We give our opinions from our own experiences, both personally and professionally — that’s what this is all about,” added Hochgraber.

Nelson said that the current focus on expanding their membership is important. “The more opinions, the better,” he added.

Anyone who is interested in joining the group should send an e-mail to Shawn Christianson at

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Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454