The Joint Commission just released its 2009 National Patient Safety Goals, and –- no surprise –- they focus on infection prevention. While this seems natural today, it wasn’t always so. In fact, the conflation of infection control and patient safety is one of the most surprising twists of the patient safety revolution.
The inclusion – make that dominance – of infection prevention in the safety field was anything but preordained. The IOM Report on medical errors, which sparked the modern patient safety movement, mentions the word “infections” 8 times and the word “medications” 234 times. In other words, the Founding Fathers of patient safety didn’t appear to have preventing infections in mind when they articulated the scope of the endeavor.
So how did it come to pass that infection prevention became one of, if not the, central focus of the patient safety enterprise? The first step was recognition of the importance of measurement. Without measurable rates of adverse events, there could be no public reporting, no research demonstrating improvements, no pay for performance (or, more au currant, “no pay for errors” – note that more than half of the “no pay” entities on CMS’s present and proposed list are infections), and ultimately no one who could be held accountable for progress in safety.
I gave a keynote yesterday to the first-ever meeting on "Diagnostic Error in Medicine." I hope the confab helps put diagnostic errors on the safety map. But, as Ricky Ricardo said, the experts and advocates in the audience have some ‘splainin’ to do.
I date the origin of the patient safety field to the publication of the IOM report on medical errors (To Err is Human). It is the field’s equivalent of the Birth of Christ (as in, there was before, and there is after). But from the get-go, diagnostic errors were the ugly stepchild of the safety family. I searched the text of To Err… and found that the term “medication errors” is mentioned 70 times, while “diagnostic errors” appears twice. This is interesting because diagnostic errors comprised 17 percent of the adverse events in the Harvard Medical Practice Study (from which the IOM’s 44,000 to 98,000 deaths numbers were drawn), and account for twice as many malpractice suits as medication errors.
What I call “Diagnostic Errors Exceptionalism” has persisted ever since. Think about the patient safety issues that are on today’s public radar screen (i.e., they are subject to public reporting, included in “no pay for errors,” examined during Joint Commission visits, etc.). It’s a pretty diverse group, including medication mistakes, falls, decubitus ulcers, wrong-site surgery, and hospital-acquired infections. But not diagnostic errors. Funny, huh?
There are lots of reasons for this. Here are just a few:
Hospital patient safety has a new celebrity advocate in Dennis Quaid, whose twin newborns received a massive overdose of a blood thinner last year at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center while being treated for infections.
While his twins bled profusely, Quaid and his wife, Kimberly, were met by a hospital risk management team, who instead of offering an apology and explanation, provided half-truths and excuses, Quaid told hundreds of journalists Thursday at the annual Association of Healthcare Journalists Conference in Washington D.C.
The Quaids’ experience has been widely covered in the press, and he and his wife recently started The Quaid Foundation to shine a spotlight on the 100,000 people who the Institute of Medicine estimates die annually from preventable hospital errors.
"Unfortunately this tragic secret in the medical industry will continue until the medical community overwhelms a conspiracy of silence and demands public accountability,” Quaid said. "I do realize that because I’m a known person, we have an opportunity to get the word out."
I think many people have seen this sad story of a wrong-sided kidney removal in Minnesota. We all feel the pain for this poor patient. It is difficult for us non-physicians to understand how this happens, for the pathway to the error seems remarkably clear after the fact. But, we have to understand that the actual delivery of medical care contains multiple opportunities for mistakes, and even extremely competent and well meaning doctors and nurses can find themselves in shock afterwards when this kind of thing occurs.
Here are two emails I have received on the topic which both offer useful perspectives on the matter.
First, my buddy E-patient Dave writes:
I’ve caught a couple of errors on my radiology reports, and have had them corrected. Both VERY minor compared to this. Can there be any doubt that patients need to have access to their records, as PatientSite allows, and need to be aware of their need (and ability) to read them?
Second, from one of our senior surgeons to his colleagues:
As copied below, another high profile event, to remind us how easily error can occur. In this case the consent was wrong when done in the office, and it was the only document used to confirm sidedness at the time out. As you read the article, you will note this tragedy extends not only to the patient but to the entire team, as well as the institution.
I would remind you that we had our own "near miss" here at BIDMC, which was caught by the attending surgeon, and confirmed on reviewing the images. In our case, the patient had confirmed the wrong site to the nurses, residents and fellows involved, so patients are not infallible. To best avoid this we (multiple providers) must use multiple sources of information (including the patient, exam, imaging and documentation), and we must have all OR participants agree actively that the patient ID, procedure, side and site are correct. Also as highlighted by this case, the episode of surgical care and opportunity to err starts the first time we see the patient.
Among its many less-noticed accomplishments, this Administration has strangled funding for comprehensive sex education. Instead, it has thrown the immense weight of the US government behind abstinence-based education, an impractical ideological approach rooted in religious zealotry and a romantic notion of social mores that no longer exists for most young Americans. In 2005 and 2006, the Bush Administration spent $170 and $178 million, respectively, more than double the 2004 expenditure, much of it allocated to mostly conservative Christian organizations, to encourage children to refrain from sex without explaining the fundamentals of contraception and sexually-transmitted disease (STD). In 2004, a Minority Staff Special Investigations report prepared at the request of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) found that more than 80 percent of federally funded abstinence programs contain false
or misleading information about sex and reproductive health.
Several events and trends emerged over the last year that will reverberate throughout the health care
marketplace in 2008 and going forward. While none of these dominated the trade press like some other issues – electronic and personal health records, RHIOs, the evolving labor shortage, pay-for-performance reimbursement – these manifestations of change are occurring in the marketplace as well as through policy, and are moving health care forward in fundamentally positive and far-reaching ways.
Health 2.0The most significant for the long term in terms of its capacity to change how health care works is the Health 2.0 movement, which Matthew Holt and Indu Sabaiya have played a central role in facilitating and explaining. In some ways, Health 2.0 is simply a continuation of what has come before: companies creating new value through information and connecting with customers over the Web. Health 2.0 takes this approach into every area of health care data, often driven by companies outside of or at the margins of health care, who have no financial stake in perpetuating inappropriateness and waste, and who see an opportunity to make money by rationalizing the system.
But is it as simple as that really? Perhaps not. In the commentary that follows, Bob Wachter has a very different take on the airline analogy. Analogies are useful things, true, he argues. But perhaps not as useful as the cure-healthcare-by-adopting-model-posed-by- [ insert industry / EU member state here ] might have us believe. Who should you believe? That’s up to you. You’ll find more of Bob’s excellent commentary on quality and patient safety in the THCB archives and on his blog, Wachter’s World.
The rate of fatal domestic airline crashes has fallen by 65% in the past decade – from an amazingly low rate of one fatal accident in about 2 million departures in 1997, to a breathtakingly low rate of one in 4.5 million departures this year. Flying just keeps getting safer and safer.
Beginning with the 1999 Institute of Medicine report on medical errors, aviation has become the poster child for patient safety. In fact, it was an aviation analogy – the translation of the 44,000-98,000 deaths per year from medical errors into “the equivalent of a jumbo jet a day crashing” – that jumpstarted the patient safety field in the first place.
On the whole, I like the aviation analogy, because it energizes us and helps illustrate the need for certain safety-oriented practices, such as standardization, simplification, simulation, teamwork training, and effective reporting systems and regulations. It is also uniquely accessible: who would ever fly electively if a big plane went down every day in the U.S.? Yet hundreds of thousands of people check into hospitals and clinics electively daily.
But lately, I’ve sensed gathering pushback against the aviation analogy – as well as against analogies from other industries. “This has nothing to do with us,” I hear from colleagues sometimes. “Healthcare is so different.” And they’re partly right. For example, we have learned that dampening down authority gradients on a med-surg ward is orders of magnitude harder than doing so in a cockpit. Here’s why: to prevent another Tenerife disaster (the horrific 1977 runway incursion/collision of two 747s, ostensibly caused when the flight engineer – who suspected there was a large airplane blocking the way – felt uncomfortable speaking up to his boss, the pilot), aviation had to transform its culture.
Robert Wachter is widely regarded as a leading figure in the modern patient safety movement. Together with Dr. Robert Goldman, he coined the term "hospitalist" in an 1996 essay in The New England Journal of Medicine. His most recent book, Understanding Patient Safety, (McGraw-Hill, 2008) examines the factors that have contributed to what is often described as "an epidemic" facing American hospitals. His posts appear semi-regularly on THCB and on his own blog "Wachter’s World."
The Entertainment Blogosphere was atwitter this week with the story
of actor Dennis Quaid’s twin
newborns, who reportedly received a
1000-fold heparin overdose at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in La La
Land. Cedars’ Chief Medical Officer Michael Langberg may win this
year’s Oscar for fastest public apology – having learned the lesson
from the 2003 Duke transplant error, where the hospital stonewalled for a week or so, adding chum to the media feeding frenzy.
error came during heparin line flushes, when a 10,000 units/ml solution
of heparin was mistakenly substituted for the intended 10 units/ml
solution. Although the cases required pharmacologic reversal of the
anticoagulant effect, thankfully there were no bleeding complications.
These cases come on the heels of last week’s report
out of Dallas that the state-supported UT-Southwestern kept an “A-list”
of potential donors and assorted bigwigs. Apparently, when these folks
come to the hospital or clinic, they may get a personal greeting, a
preferential parking spot, perhaps even an escort to their appointment.
My friends at Health Care Renewal, who chronicle and condemn healthcare’s corporate influences, were shocked. Shocked!
not. Every hospital I know keeps some sort of a VIP list, a tripwire to
alert the organization of the arrival of a dignitary or billionaire.
Even when there isn’t a formal list, you can be sure that a single call
to the CEO’s office is more than enough to lift the velvet rope. That’s
a simple fact of life, and to me not worthy of a big fuss.