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QUALITY: Patient safety — we’re still waiting and getting impatient

iHealthbeat reports that a couple of patient safety bills are stuck in Congress with little prospect of getting out. Basically the House version would allow errors reported to be used in legal proceedings, while the Senate version would not. The politics of this dispute are starting to get into public consciousness.

While the IOM To Err is Human report is 5 years old this November, a recent Harris interactive poll of the public’s view on patient safety shows that the people are becoming more aware of this issue. It’s not exactly as high on the radar screen as drug reimportation, but there is concern. 63% of Americans are concerned about medication errors in hospitals, and 55% are concerned about surgical errors. I’m not sure that it’s good news for hospitals that more than half of their potential customers are worried about what happens to them when they get in there. After all a hospital is supposed to be a place that you go to get better and a place where you should feel safe. Even though I personally know all about the iatrogenic illness story, I didn’t think that it would happen to me (which it never has!). But it appears that I’m in a minority. And more importantly nearly 30% of Americans believe that hospitals do only a fair or poor job in preventing these errors (and they’re right) which is only slightly fewer than the number who think they do an excellent job.

If you listen to a leader in this area, like Intermountain’s Brent James (who’s talk on this subject earlier this summer I posted about here) you’ll realize that plenty can be done relatively simply to improve patient safety, improve outcomes and generally do this all better. A great example is the use of discharge sheets form InterMountain. A 6 year study shows that giving cardiac patients discharge sheets, and making sure that they take actual drugs (not just a prescription) with them:

Brent Muhlestein, director of cardiovascular research at IHC said the discharge policy seems a simple enough solution, but not every hospital follows it. He hopes other health care facilities will follow IHC’s lead, and he eventually wants to expand the program to patients with diabetes.

It’s about time that every hospital put this to the front of its agenda. Yes, CPOE is complex, but some process change — like those discharge sheets — is relatively simple and doesn’t require too much technology, just a determination on the part of executives and clinicians. And if they need inspiration, well Congress may just be ready to provide it if the issue gets more publicity after the election.

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