By Lynn T. Simon, M.D., MBA, Senior Vice President and Chief Quality Officer, Community Health Systems
What do nuclear power plants, airlines and hospitals have in common? In these industries, safety must be a core value to ensure that the primary objective – whether it’s to provide electricity, air travel or patient care – is effective and doesn’t cause harm.
Community Health Systems’ affiliated hospitals take safety very seriously. It goes beyond listing it as a top priority; creating highly reliable environments where reducing and preventing medical errors is embedded as a core value.
Our partner in this effort spoke at a meeting of LHC members on August 15. Kerry Johnson, founder and chief innovation officer at Healthcare Performance Improvement, called the conditions that healthcare providers operate under “very trying.” In fact, health care errors remain a significant cause of injury and death in our country. Because the delivery of health care is an extremely complex process that involves complicated technology, powerful drugs and critical human decision-making, it is not surprising that sometimes things go wrong. So how do you balance the stress of these environments with our responsibility to avoid medical errors, or safety events?
Because most hospitals address each safety event as a separate issue, they struggle with how to make their organizations safer overall. To improve safety, hospitals must focus on human behavior as well as systemic issues and processes that may lead to recurring errors.
Analyzing why past errors have occurred and implementing behavioral standards, making process changes and holding leadership accountable are best practices for preventing future errors. When that happens, behaviors change, outcomes improve and best practices emerge. In its work with other hospitals across the country, HPI has seen the rate of serious safety events decline as much as 80 percent over two years.
Applying the same scientific principles that have been used by the nuclear power and aviation industries to create safer environments, we also expect to reduce potential hazards and improve the patient experience. Under the highly reliable model, providers must go beyond policy to make active participation in creating a safe environment part of the everyday experience. In other words, hospital personnel are trained to put safety above all other priorities and to develop automatic internal responses to day-to-day demands with the goal of eliminating safety events. As the culture of reliability pervades an organization, these actions become second nature and the needle moves closer to zero safety events.
CHS-affiliated hospitals are already top performers in offering quality care to their communities. And though we are proud of our continuous efforts and good results, there is never an opportunity to relax. Regular emphasis on safety measures, assessment of their effectiveness and examining new ways to protect patients from harm are happening every day. As health care providers, quality care is our mission and safety is our obligation. Innovations in the health care industry will change and evolve how patient care is administered, but at our most basic form as health care providers, we must do no harm.