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The role of clients and their relatives in improving healthcare

Updated at: 16 November 2022
Role of patient and their relatives in improving healthcare - Patient participation

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Role of patient and their relatives in improving healthcare - Patient participation

By actively listening to experiences of patients/clients and their relatives, the quality and safety of care can be substantially improved, without requiring major change processes. This blog describes how to facilitate this.

Patient/client participation

More and more care institutions involve patients/clients and their relatives in healthcare. They have specific expertise based on their personal situation, their treatment, their disease and their recovery, their own experience and possible adverse reactions to previous treatments.

“By listening attentively to how patients/clients perceive healthcare, care institutions can avoid unnecessary errors that result in damage.”

Patients/clients may be the final link in identifying possible errors that have not been identified by successive caregivers. They are the only ones to pass through the entire care process and may reveal hidden inadequacies.

Participation to improve safety


  • Ensure the information about reporting unsafe care and incidents is concrete and appealing.
  • Provide the information in aan accessible format. 
  • Use clear images and catchy texts.
  • Actively offer resources.
  • Revisit the topic regularly.
  • Use humour whenever possible.

Patients/clients and their relatives can be actively involved in improving safety. This provides institutions insight into possible risks and matters that elicit feelings of insecurity. This may include matters that are actually visible, but also matters that are less tangible but that affect the perception of the patients/clients and their relatives, such as inadequate communication, unfair treatment or a bad atmosphere. These factors may evoke feelings of insecurity. Lack of cooperation within a team, between staff and patients/clients or between patients/clients themselves, may also increase the risk of errors and incidents.

“Make families and relatives aware of the role they can play in improving safety of care.”

It is important for patients/clients and their relatives to know how they can contribute to improvement of quality and safety. This can be promoted by informing them on the website, in leaflets and during intake interviews. For clients who are already in the system, posters, information meetings and animated videos may also be used.

What is necessary to involve patients/clients in improving healthcare?

When involving patients/clients in improving healthcare, two things are important:

  1. Caregivers and managers have to be prepared to enter into a dialogue with patients/clients and their relatives about safety aspects and their perception of safety.
  2. The necessary facilities or tools must be available, in order for patients/clients to actually leave their signals and reports within the organisation.

“Reporting unsafe situations is never an end in itself, but is always aimed at learning from matters that don’t run smoothly.”

When improving care, the focus does not lie on failing professionals, but on missing or defective procedures, agreements or safety measures.

Create a safety culture and facilitate

Patients/clients and their relatives will only dare raising unsafe situations or (near) incidents within a safe organisational culture. A culture is considered safe when patients/clients and their relatives feel free to report and discuss matters, thus allowing institutions to improve care.

To provide patients/clients and their relatives with an accessible reporting system, healthcare institutions can provide a (digital) system that allows them to safely (and anonymously) report incidents. This does not refer to the complaints procedure.

“By reporting unsafe situations, patients/clients and their relatives can serve as the “eyes and ears” of the healthcare institution. This offers opportunities to improve the quality of care.”

It is important for the person reporting to understand how the organisation learns from these reports, namely by the subsequent risk analysis and suggestions for improvement. This becomes fully transparent if it can also be openly communicated.

E-book about Patient participation

Do you want to know more on how to improve the quality and safety of care by involving patients/clients and their relatives?
Download our e-book 'How do you regular care into excellent care?' about patient participation:

E-book Patient participation

Wendy Rientjes, 2018


Kwaliteitsinstituut voor de Gezonheidszorg CBO. (2009, August). Patiënten betrekken bij de zorg in het ziekenhuis. Retrieved from

LPPGz, GGZ Nederland, & Veilige zorg, ieders zorg. (2013, May). Handreiking Patiëntenparticipatie vanuit cliënten- en familieperspectief. Retrieved from

LPPGz, GGZ Nederland, Veilige zorg, ieders zorg, & CKMZ. (2013, May). Handreiking Signaleren en melden van (on)veiligheid door cliënten en naasten. Retrieved from