Patient Safety Improvements Start with Systems and Involves Everyone

Keeping patients safe is a critical job for every healthcare provider, whether it’s a small family physician practice or a large hospital campus. Federal and private payor programs continue to shine the spotlight on quality by putting the onus of patient safety improvements on the shoulders of providers. Without strategic improvement programs, providers can risk falling out of compliance and losing valuable revenue opportunities, not to mention the demoralizing and frightening consequences that injuries and hospital-related infections can have on patients. Providers and facilities that want to be proactive with patient safety improvements must realize that improvements start with systems and filter through to involve everyone in the process.

Systems, Not Individuals, Cause Majority of Errors

One of the biggest resources in a strong healthcare system is the people. The clinicians, administrators and other individuals that make up a facility’s staff bring the heart and minds that make compassionate, quality care possible, and it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to remove people from the process 100 percent, even in the future. Because of that, there will always be the occasional issue chalked up to human error, but patient safety is much less likely to be put at risk because of people than because of processes.

An Institute of Medicine report titled To Err is Human found that faulty processes and systems were much more likely to cause errors than individual staff members were. The report noted that inefficient and inconsistent processes make it difficult for providers to deliver what can be complex care while minimizing risks for errors. In discussing these findings, senior health scientist administrator Ronda G. Hughes notes that continuous process improvement methods — proven tools that help teams work toward improvement at all times — is one of the best ways to counteract such issues. Hughes says healthcare teams should work to employ methods such as Lean or Six Sigma to improve patient safety and the productivity and efficiency of any healthcare process.

Good Data Is Critical to Right Decision Making

If analytical methods such as Six Sigma are being recommended in the healthcare field, it’s not surprising that many experts are turning to data to help with patient safety improvements. While people can’t be effectively removed from the compassionate care cycle, automation can be introduced to help make use of data in the most compelling ways. Machine learning, for example, can be leveraged to automate reporting and analysis, reducing the time it takes for healthcare organizations to come to actionable decisions about process improvements.

Automation can also be used to create real-time processes that alert staff to needs, concerns or safety issues. When safety concerns are incorporated into real-time activity rather than reviewed as an after-thought, staff are more likely to develop better habits and reduce the risks to patient populations.

Patient Safety Involves Everyone

Most healthcare administrators and clinicians know that patient safety improvements are the responsibility of every person that comes into contact with the patient, but in reality, they involve every person who walks into the facility. Even further, patient safety can involve the patient and their family members or caregivers — even those that don’t walk into the facility or attend an appointment.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality provides a number of kits and printables that hospitals and other providers can use to engage patients and their family members in the safety mission. From communication templates to community-based guides for developing safety programs, these tools help providers better share the mission of patient safety improvements with everyone involved to support the best possible outcome.

Providers that achieve excellence when it comes to patient safety are willing to think outside the box. They work in a comprehensive fashion with all staff, but they also work with the patient and family members as appropriate and invest in technical and data-driven resources to get the job done right.