There is never a doubt about where Michel White’s attention will be when she is talking about health care in B.C. No matter the initiative, no matter the project or organization she’s working with, she is laser focused on getting to the heart of one thing – the impact it will have on patients.

The Patient Voices Network patient advisor is determined, never hesitating to challenge health care providers on the everyday things they take for granted. In so doing, she opens the door for them to see the effect they have on patients, families and caregivers.

“Michel is a driving force for change,” says Eric Worrall, a quality consultant with Physician Quality Improvement (PQI) at Fraser Health, which has benefited from Michel’s passion for including the patient voice in health care. “One of her greatest gifts is the ability to bring the focus of any initiative back to the benefit for the patient. Her message remains the same: When patients are empowered and engaged, care improves for all.”

Michel has been an outspoken advocate for including the patient voice in health care since volunteering with the Patient Voices Network (PVN) in 2008. Over the years, she has been part of many committees, presented at conferences and events, and has added her insights to many initiatives, particularly Fraser Health’s PQI program, originally as a patient advisor for individual projects and then as a PQI Steering Committee member, enabling her to add the voice of the patient to decisions affecting QI throughout the health authority. Most recently, she helped co-develop standards of patient engagement for all PQI programs in the province and works with the Doctors of BC’s provincial QI committee to advocate for the patient voice on a larger stage.

She also participates in the BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) and Patient Voices Network joint General Patient Experience Group, providing first-hand knowledge, insight, and experience that supports BCEHS in developing programs and policies that meets patients’ needs when they contact 911.

She was inspired to become involved through her own experiences navigating the intricacies of the health care system as well as on behalf of her daughter, which has given her a rich perspective of both patient and caregiver. She embraced the “What Matters to You?” initiative, realizing that patients had a role in the system of care to ensure it was built with patient needs in mind, working with providers as a team.

She took Fraser Health’s PQI curriculum herself and, after graduating from that cohort, became a patient advisor the following year. During the cohort training, she was able to offer physicians a lens on how to better consider patients when working through systemic changes. She was then invited to work with a physician and his team on a palliative care project, where she offered the patient perspective on pamphlets and helped improve information for patients, their families and physicians.

“Her work directly contributed to the success of the project, improving identification and access to palliative services by more than 80% for patients in the community,” Eric says.

Participation and consultation led to sharing about the importance of patient and family engagement in the PQI program, and from there to an invitation to sit on the PQI Steering Committee where she contributed to curriculum development as well as the strategic direction of the program. She was respected as a peer and a leader, and her guidance was felt throughout the health authority.

Her perspectives have also been felt in BCEHS, says project coordinator Janessa Tom. She has helped remind paramedics to remember that patients are people first, not a condition.

“She has a solid understanding of what kinds of changes are tangible and realistic, but does not lower

her standards and expectations for acceptable patient care based on what may take more effort to implement,” Janessa says. “As the individual who runs the BCEHS-Patient Voices Network Patient Experience Groups, I am constantly inspired by Michel’s frank but factual stories of both failures and successes with pre-hospital and paramedic care.”

For example, Michel pointed out during one session that the uniforms BCEHS paramedics wear look similar to those of police forces. This may trigger trauma in patients from negative experiences they may have had with police, and Michel recognized how this may tie into cultural safety.

“Michel spoke to inequities in care and treatment of Indigenous individuals and People of Colour and

explained how this could be something that is creating a barrier to care that others are unaware of,” Janessa says. “Considerations like these are the reason why we as health care workers need to be engaging with patients and listening to perspectives that differ from our own, and why patient engagement is so crucial to improving the health care system.”