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The safety concerns that keep clinicians awake at night often aren't issues that you could fit onto a safety and quality dashboard. They aren't the kinds of things that feed metrics on the CMS Hospital Compare website or any of the other sources of publicly reported quality measures. They are intensely local, and no less important for being so.
This reminder came to me last week during a quarterly meeting of Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program (CUSP) teams from across Johns Hopkins. This meeting is a chance for these teams to share successes, learn from one another and discuss common challenges. For instance, one team was concerned that improper handling of insulin pens might lead patients to be injected with a pen that had already been used on another patient. These pens must be kept in a patient-specific drawer in a medication room between administrations. Yet frequent interruptions and the distance to the medication room make it hard for nurses to follow this consistently. They might be tempted to place an insulin pen in a coat pocket and move on to another patient's room, where they could mistake one patient's pen for another. So the unit has formed an interdisciplinary group that will be pilot testing a solution — a clear lockbox in each patient's room that holds only these pens — in four units across the hospital.
This was but one example of how local units were identifying hazards, owning problems and coming up with system fixes for them. Another unit presented its investigation into a malfunctioning device, the findings of which will go to the Food and Drug Administration.
Today, health care faces pressure from all fronts to prevent harm and demonstrate high-quality care. We track and publicly report health care-acquired conditions such as infections, patient safety indicators like accidental vein lacerations and adherence to evidence-based care processes known as core measures. We measure harm in patient experience by whether patients felt respected and had their needs met though the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey.
Increasingly these measures are shared online, tied to reimbursement and hospital reputation. They can be tracked, and they can help our health care organizations to see how they are performing compared to their goals and to other hospitals. These metrics are important, of course. But they paint an incomplete picture of what constitutes preventable harm.
Patients suffer harm when they receive disrespectful care, or when we perform invasive treatments at the end of life that are not in line with their goals. They are harmed when we waste their money by increasing their out-of-pocket expenses on therapies they do not need, when a provider orders lab tests out of fear of being second-guessed by an attending physician and when we order an intravenous drug when a less expensive oral medication would do just as well.
No doubt, it is overwhelming to commit to zero harm, especially when we define it so broadly. There are just so many ways that we can fall short of patients’ expectations and needs. Certainly there aren't enough months in the year for each harm type to be a "flavor of the month," even if that were a wise approach to begin with.Read More »Small Wins Line the Path toward Zero Harm
Last week the Armstrong Institute, along with our partners at the World Health Organization, had the privilege of hosting more than 200 clinicians, patient advocates, health care leaders and policy makers for our inaugural Forum on Emerging Topics in Patient Safety in Baltimore.
The event featured presentations by international experts in a dozen different industries, including aviation safety expert Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, a former space shuttle commander and the chief medical officer of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Other speakers shared their expertise in education, sociology, engineering, nuclear power and hospitality to see what untapped lessons such fields may hold for health care.
Their collective expertise was breathtaking. What was even more impressive was the obvious enthusiasm and spirit of collaboration embodied by a group joined by a common and noble purpose: to overcome the complex challenges that allow preventable patient harm to persist.
At Johns Hopkins, we’ve already seen what’s possible when health care adopts best practices from other industries. Our work to reduce central line-associated blood stream infections (CLABSI) presents a powerful example. By coupling an aviation-style checklist of best practices to prevent these infections with a culture change program that empowers front-line caregivers to take ownership for patient safety, the program, detailed recently on Health Affairs Blog, has reduced CLABSI in hospital intensive care units across the country by more than 40 percent. Similar results have been replicated in Spain, England, Peru and Pakistan.
That effort succeeded because we challenged and changed paradigms traditionally accepted by the health care community. We helped convince teams that patient harm is preventable, not inevitable. That health care is delivered by an expert team, not a team of experts. And, most importantly, that by working together, health care stakeholders can overcome barriers to improvement.
But if there are to be more national success stories in quality improvement, I believe the health care community will need to examine a few of its other beliefs.
For example, health care can learn much from the nuclear power industry, which has markedly improved its safety track record over the last two decades since peer-review programs were implemented. Created in the wake of two nuclear crises, these programs may provide a powerful model for health care organizations.
Following the famous Three Mile Island accident, a partial nuclear meltdown near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in spring 1979, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators (INPO) was formed by the CEOs of the nuclear companies. That organization established a peer-to-peer assessment program to share best practices, safety hazards, problems and actions that improved safety and operational performance. In the U.S., no serious nuclear accidents have occurred since then.
This month the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) published a new report that identifies the most promising practices for improving patient safety in U.S. hospitals.
An update to the 2001 publication Making Health Care Safer: A Critical Analysis of Patient Safety Practices, the new report reflects just how much the science of safety has advanced.
A decade ago the science was immature; researchers posited quick fixes without fully appreciating the difficulty of challenging and changing accepted behaviors and beliefs.
Today, based on years of work by patient safety researchers—including many at Johns Hopkins—hospitals are able to implement evidence-based solutions to address the most pernicious causes of preventable patient harm. According to the report, here is a list of the top 10 patient safety interventions that hospitals should adopt now.