Listening to Our Patients

Operation Smile is committed to delivering patient centered care that is accessible to every person living with an unrepaired cleft lip or palate.  Over the last 32 years Operation Smile has taken care of thousands of children with cleft lip and palate.  As we look to the future and pursue the goal of extending surgical care to all those in need, we realized that we needed to better understand our patients, their lives and their constraints.

Toward that end, we are creating opportunities to listen to our patients.  We acknowledge the complex environments in which the poor live and understand that increasing access to healthcare only truly matters if it is congruent with and responsive to the needs of patients and delivered in a manner consistent with patients’ needs, culture and constraints.  As we began to listen to our patients, we realized that things like the cost of a bus ticket or purchasing food while a child was in the hospital rendered free care 
unaffordable and therefore inaccessible for many of the poorest.  We began to understand that all those patients who lived within walking distance of the hospital or that had a cow to sell to purchase a bus ticket or that owned a radio and could hear the announcement that free surgery was available have been taken care of.  Those still in need of care represent the poorest and most marginalized people living within the societies where we work and we are determined to extend the opportunity for treatment to them.

Currently, little is understood about the barriers to accessing surgery for patients living in resource-limited environments.  In addition, very little is understood about the parameters that influence a patient’s decision-making process with regard to seeking care for essential surgical procedures and health services.  Operation Smile has undertaken a study that will elucidate factors influencing care seeking decisions and will identify barriers to accessing essential surgical care. 

As we begin preliminary analysis, there is an increasing realization that we need to tailor programs to the hardest to reach – the most vulnerable, the most marginalized – and only then can we ensure that essential surgical care is available to all.

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