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Voices for Safer Care

Insights from the Armstrong Institute

Measurement of Safety and Quality

To Make Hospital Quality a Priority, Take a Page from Finance

When you are a patient at a hospital, you want to know that the executives who run that facility put the safety and quality of care above all other concerns. Encouragingly, more of them are saying that safety is indeed their number-one priority—a fitting answer given that preventable patient harm may claim more than 400,000 lives a year in the United States.

Yet when you look at the way that most hospitals and corporate health systems are organized, weak infrastructure exists to support that priority. True, some hospital boards of trustees have made safety and quality their first order of business. At meetings, they might hear directly from a patient who suffered a medical error, sit through a case study of a unit that reduced complications, or get an overview of various efforts to boost the patient experience and improve outcomes.

Stories can inspire culture change. Sustained improvements, however, require health care organizations to institute top-to-bottom accountability for performance.

What would it look like if safety and quality truly were addressed this way? It might be something like how most hospitals’ finances are managed, from the board level to the smallest unit.

With amazing precision, the finance department in Johns Hopkins Medicine can track virtually every dollar that comes in and goes out. These data can be segmented, sifted and filtered into well-established reports, showing us how our clinics, departments and entire hospitals are performing.

This financial data is used across our organization, all the way up to our board, which reviews consolidated financial statements. If a clinical service line falls short of its financial goals, there is a robust management structure in place—from the hospital to unit and clinic level--to ensure that we investigate and seek solutions.

Quality and safety lack a parallel infrastructure.  A health system typically has a chief quality officer, and so does a hospital. Yet the internal capacity within departments and clinics to contribute to improvement work is woefully deficient.Read More »To Make Hospital Quality a Priority, Take a Page from Finance

Health Care Shouldn’t Judge Itself by Flawed Tests

As standardized exam scores increasingly define success for students, teachers and schools, parents worry about the dangers of “teaching to the test”—and of their children being judged by tests with low or unknown validity. We want our children to perform well on tests, of course, yet only if they measure something that students, patients and teachers believe really matter. We also want the education system to inspire students develop into well-rounded people, not just skilled exam-takers.

In health care there is a similar danger of focusing on improving our “test scores” at the expense of real improvement in patient safety—and in this case, the exams have serious flaws. The federal government uses a composite measure of patient safety to help determine whether hospitals are penalized under two programs. One of those programs, the Hospital-Acquired Conditions Program, in December reduced Medicare reimbursements by 1 percent for 721 hospitals for their rates of preventable harms, such as serious blood clots, pressure ulcers, and accidental punctures and lacerations.

Serves them right, you might think. These hospitals are unnecessarily harming patients. That might be true if the test of their patient safety performance was scientifically sound. However, these programs have a serious methodological flaw: Many of their component measures are not based on reviews of the clinical record, but are rather derived from billing information, which produces a high rate of false positives. Indeed, for some of these measures, more than half of the incidents identified as preventable harm turn out to be false, once we review the clinical documentation. There can be many reasons for this. For instance, a patient may have had a pressure ulcer before admission that was not documented. Or a clot in a small vein might be mistakenly coded as a more serious clot known as a deep vein thrombosis.Read More »Health Care Shouldn’t Judge Itself by Flawed Tests

A blueprint for high reliability

Ensuring that patients who take beta blockers receive their heart medication before and after surgery is a best practice to prevent future problems. A workgroup at The Johns Hopkins Hospital is one of 40 teams across JHM focused on delivering such best practices.

Across health care, organizations constantly struggle with the challenge of achieving patient safety and quality successes on a large scale—across a hospital or network of hospitals. Too often, they are doomed at the start, because staff don’t even know what the goals are. In other cases, staff have limited capacity to carry out improvement work and few resources available to help them. Subpar performance is allowed to continue without any accountability, assuming that they know how well they are performing in the first place.

At Johns Hopkins Medicine, we are proud of an effort that has not only improved patient care, but has also provided a blueprint for how we can tackle any number of challenges in improving patient care—such as eliminating infections or enhancing the patient experience—across complex health care organizations.

Last week three hospitals within Johns Hopkins Medicine were recognized by the Joint Commission as “Top Performers” in patient safety and quality, for consistently following evidence-based practices at a very high level. Those hospitals—The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. and All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla.—benefitted from an organization-wide approach that enlisted local teams in problem solving, directed core resources to support those teams, and made units, departments and hospitals accountable for their performance.

Read More »A blueprint for high reliability