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A Patient Safety Week Reminder About Continuous Improvement

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Mar 17, 2017 8:03:00 AM

In the United States, multiple estimates say over  100,000 people die each year in hospitals as a result of medical errors. There are an estimated 1.7 million care-associated infections each year and “adverse medication events” cause over 750,000 injuries and deaths per year. Beyond the human cost, if you look at the financial cost of these mistakes, we’re looking at almost $20 billion annually. (Source)

The National Patient Safety Foundation is launching a program this week called United for Patient Safety, which is kicking off a year-long effort to bring awareness to and decrease harm from patient safety issues.

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As part of their Patient Safety Week initiative, the group is encouraging medical professionals to step out of their scrubs and into patient gowns to remind themselves and others that we’re all the same.

“We are all patients, after all. We want leaders to demonstrate a commitment to listen to the patient’s voice and strive for patient safety and the reduction of harm.”

- Tejal K. Dandhi, MD, MPH, CPPS, president and CEO of NPSF


To get involved, I encourage you to go to this website and sign United for Patient Safety’s 2017 Health Care Consumer Pledge, that states:

“I pledge to be an active member of my health care team by participating in my care to the best of my ability. I will ask questions to become better informed and involved in my care, and will discuss my thoughts, preferences, issues and concerns with my health care providers.”

In parallel with this Consumer Pledge, United for Patient Safety has also created a Health Care Professional Pledge which states: 

“I pledge to strive to implement and follow practices that increase the safety of my patients and my team.”

I think that raising awareness for patient safety in this way is both timely and critical. I also think, however, that this health care professional pledge is missing a key component: continuous improvement.

We know that the people on the front lines who are doing the work are the best suited for improving the work. That pledge, though, just says that the medical professionals will implement and follow practices to increase safety. That’s great and all, but I’d like it a whole lot better if that pledge were “to implement, follow, improve, and share practices that increase the safety of my patients and my team.”

If all hospitals took this approach - the expectation that every member of the medical team was expected to follow AND actively improve standards, rather than simply follow them - I think we’d see a dramatic decrease in patient harm. It’s the doctors, nurses, technicians, and others who are implementing procedures day in and day out, and I guarantee you that they have ideas for how to improve those procedures. They need to be empowered to improve the standard.

And it’s more than just improving the standard in their own work; medical professionals need a way to quickly capture the process improvements they’ve made and share them with the rest of the organization so that everyone can make the same change in the care they’re providing. In that way, the small ideas of an individual can have a large, lasting impact on patient safety.


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