Performance measurement has too often been plagued by inordinate focus on technical aspects of clinical care—ordering a particular test or prescribing from a class of medication—such that the patient’s perspective of the care received may be totally ignored. Moreover, many patients, even with successful treatment, too often feel disrespected. Patients care not only about the outcomes of care but also and their personal experience with care.
There is marked heterogeneity in the patient experience, and the quality of attention to patients’ needs and values can influence their course, whether or not short-term clinical outcomes are affected. Some patients have rapid recovery of function and strength, and minimal or no symptoms. Other patients may be markedly impaired, living with decreased function, substantial pain, and other symptoms, and with markedly diminished quality of life. It would be remiss to assume that these two groups of patients have similar outcomes just because they have avoided adverse clinical outcomes such as death or readmission.
In recommending a focus on measuring outcomes rather than care processes, we consider surveys or other approaches to obtaining the perspectives of patients on the care they receive to be an essential component of such outcomes. When designed and administered appropriately, patient experience surveys provide robust measures of quality, and can capture patient evaluation of care-focused communication with nurses and physicians . And while patient-reported measures appear to be correlated with better outcomes, we believe they are worth collecting and working to improve in their own right, whether or not better experiences are associated with improved clinical outcomes .
Historically, the physician has been viewed as the leader of medicine, with responsibility for the care and outcomes of patients; in iconic photographs and paintings, the physician is seen as a lone, heroic figure. Such a view has led to natural interest in the measurement of individual physicians’ performance. It is therefore not surprising that some information brokers, including the U.S. News and World Report and many city magazines like the Washingtonian, provide ratings of “top doctors,” often based mostly on reputation, warranted or not.
However, this focus on the individual is flawed for most measures of quality and presents substantial technical challenges. Systems-based care is emerging as a key value within health care and a vital component of high-quality care, while the notion that an individual health professional can be held accountable for the outcomes of patients in isolation from other health professionals and their work environment is becoming an outdated perspective. For example, better intensive care unit staffing sometimes mitigates the evidence that surgeons who perform more procedures achieve better outcomes .
The communication and coordination of services across providers is required to ensure that patients, many of whom have multiple conditions, are assisted through various health care settings . For some aspects of care, such as diagnosis errors and patient experience, measuring at the individual physician level might be considered. Nevertheless, focusing measurement on an individual runs counter to our goals in promoting teamwork and “systemness” as core health care delivery attributes.
While working to develop a broad set of outcome measures that can be the basis for attaining the goals of public accountability and information for consumer choice, Medicare should ensure that the use of performance measures supports quality improvement efforts to address important deficiencies in how care is provided, not only to Medicare beneficiaries but to all Americans.
CMS’ current focus on reducing preventable rehospitalizations within 30 days of discharge represents a timely, strategic use of performance measurement to address an evident problem where there are demonstrated approaches to achieve successful improvement . Physicians and hospital clinical staff, if not necessarily hospital financial officers, generally have responded quite positively to the challenge of reducing preventable readmissions.
CMS has complemented the statutory mandate to provide financial incentives to hospitals to reduce readmission rates by developing new service codes in the Medicare physician fee schedule that provide payment to community physicians to support their enhanced role in assuring better patient transitions out of the hospital in order to reduce the likelihood of readmission . CMS recently announced that after hovering between 18.5 percent and 19.5 percent for the past five years, the 30-day all-cause readmission rate for Medicare beneficiaries dropped to 17.8 percent in the final quarter of 2012 , simplying some early success with efforts to use performance measures as part of a broad quality improvement approach to improve a discrete and important quality and cost problem.
However, this Timely Analysis of Immediate Health Policy Issues 3“CMS’ current value-based purchasing efforts, requiring reporting on a raft of measures of varying usefulness and validity, should be replaced with the kind of strategic approach used in the national effort to reduce bloodstream infections.”approach is not without controversy.
Improvements have been modest, and some suggest that readmission rates are often outside the hospital’s control, so CMS’ new policy unfairly penalizes hospitals that treat patients who are the sickest . And while readmission in surgical patients is largely related to preventable complications, readmissions in medical patients can be related to socioeconomic status. Also, some have questioned the accuracy of CMS’ seemingly straightforward readmission rate measure, finding that some hospitals reduce both admissions and readmissions—a desirable result—yet do not impact the readmission rate calculation . And one of this paper’s authors (R. Berenson) has suggested a very different payment model that would reward hospital improvement rather than absolute performance, thereby addressing the reality that hospitals’ abilities to influence readmission rates do vary by factors outstside of their control .
There is growing interest in relying more on outcome measures and less on process measures, since outcome measures better reflect what patients and providers are interested in. Yet establishing valid outcome measures poses substantial challenges—including the need to riskadjust results to account for patients’ baseline health status and risk factors, assure data validity, recognize surveillance bias, and use sufficiently large sample sizes to permit correct inferences about performance. We believe the operational challenges of moving to producing accurate and reliable outcome measures, though daunting, are worth the effort to overcome.
Patients, payers, policy-makers, and providers all care about the end results of care—not the technical approaches that providers may adopt to achieve desired outcomes, and may well vary across different organizations. Public reporting and rewards for outcomes rather than processes of care should cause provider organizations to engage in broader approaches to quality improvement activities, ideally relying on rapid-learning through root cause analysis and teamwork rather than taking on a few conveniently available process measures that are actionable but often explain little of the variation in outcomes that exemplifies U.S. health care.
However, given the inherent limitations of administrative data, which are used primarily for payment purposes, and even clinical information in electronic health records (EHRs), consideration should be given to developing a national, standardized system for outcome reporting . A new outcome reporting system would not be simple or inexpensive, but current data systems may simply be insufficient to support accurate reporting of outcomes. An example is the National Health Care Safety Network system for reporting health care infections .
If you follow the world of higher education, you have heard of MOOCs—massive online open courses. Open to anyone, anywhere, these free classes can attract tens of thousands of students whose hunger to learn outweighs the fact that no credits are typically awarded. With many elite universities now offering MOOCs, it’s a movement that is worth following as a potential model for affordable, accessible education in the future.
From an educator’s perspective, it’s also worth trying out. Beginning June 3, I will be teaming up with Cheryl Dennison Himmelfarb, a patient safety expert and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, to lead a five-week-long MOOC, “The Science of Safety in Healthcare.” Through the course, participants will explore fundamental topics in the science of safety, patient safety culture, teamwork and communication, patient-centered care, and strategies for assessing and improving care. The course workload is two to five hours per week, which includes up to two hours of video instruction, as well as readings and assignments.
Clinicians, hospital administrators, students, patients—indeed anyone with an interest in this topic—should consider enrolling. Students receive a statement of accomplishment upon passing the course.
Increasing patient safety requires that all frontline health care workers understand the basic concepts and language of health care, and that they develop the lenses to identify the hazards that face their patients. It will be interesting to see, through this course, if the MOOC model can help to efficiently deliver that kind of education on a broad basis. Certainly, becoming a patient safety leader at your unit, department or hospital requires more in-depth training.
This month the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) published a new report that identifies the most promising practices for improving patient safety in U.S. hospitals.
An update to the 2001 publication Making Health Care Safer: A Critical Analysis of Patient Safety Practices, the new report reflects just how much the science of safety has advanced.
A decade ago the science was immature; researchers posited quick fixes without fully appreciating the difficulty of challenging and changing accepted behaviors and beliefs.
Today, based on years of work by patient safety researchers—including many at Johns Hopkins—hospitals are able to implement evidence-based solutions to address the most pernicious causes of preventable patient harm. According to the report, here is a list of the top 10 patient safety interventions that hospitals should adopt now.
Although misdiagnosis may kill up to 80,000 annually—more people each year than firearms and motor vehicle accidents combined—you won’t find it on the list of the country’s leading causes of death.
Most Americans don’t realize how frequently well-meaning medical providers get it wrong. Just last year Johns Hopkins researchers found that one in 12 ICU patients die from something other than what they were being treated for. Aside from a handful of instances covered by the national media, misdiagnosis hasn’t received much attention from the public or the medical community. One such tragedy is the death of Rory Staunton, a 12-year-old boy who was treated for an upset stomach and dehydration instead of sepsis, a severe response to infection that requires immediate treatment with antibiotics. To make a complex diagnosis like sepsis, a doctor may need to assess a couple dozen different factors.
One solution is to arm clinicians with better problem-solving tools and improved IT systems to help them identify possible diagnoses faster and more accurately, especially for conditions that are commonly confused or missed altogether. This week at Johns Hopkins, a team of researchers shared some promising results about a new way for emergency medicine doctors to accurately detect stroke in patients with dizziness.
Today, an intensive care unit patient room contains anywhere from 50 to 100 pieces of medical equipment made by dozens of manufacturers, and these products rarely, if ever, talk to one another. This means that clinicians must painstakingly review and piece together information from individual devices—for instance, to make a diagnosis of sepsis or to recognize that a patient’s condition is plummeting. Such a system leaves too much room for error and requires clinicians to be heroes, rising above the flawed environment that they work in. We need a heath care system that partners with patients, their families and others to eliminate all harms, optimize patient outcomes and experience and reduce waste. Technology must enable clinicians to help achieve those goals. Technology could do so much more if it focused on achieving these goals and worked backwards from there.
This week marks a step that holds tremendous promise for patients and clinicians. On Monday the Masimo Foundation hosted the Patient Safety Science & Technology Summit in Laguna Niguel, California, an inaugural event to convene hospital administrators, medical technology companies, patient advocates and clinicians to identify solutions to some of today’s most pressing patient safety issues. In response to a call made by keynote speaker former President Bill Clinton, the leaders of nine leading medical device companies pledged to open their systems and share their data.
Lack of interoperability between medical devices plays no small role in the 200,000 American deaths caused by preventable patient harm each year, such as in the case of 11-year-old Leah Coufal. After undergoing elective surgery, Leah received narcotics intended to ease her pain.
When Leah received too much medication, it suppressed her breathing, eventually causing it to stop altogether. Had she been monitored, a device could have alerted clinicians when Leah’s breathing slowed to a dangerous level.
But as we know, clinicians are busy and unfortunately don’t always respond to alarms from bedside machines. If a machine measuring her breathing had been linked with the device delivering her medication, it could have automatically stopped the drugs from infusing into her blue, oxygen-deprived veins.
All of this is possible today; technology is not a barrier. Until now, the only thing that’s stood in the way is a lack of leadership and a lack of willingness for device manufacturers to cooperate.
In recent years, Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas has faced intense media scrutiny and government investigations into patient safety lapses. As the hospital searches for a new CEO, the Dallas Morning News asked me and other experts to answer the question: “What kind of leader does Parkland need to emerge as a stronger public hospital?” Below is the column, re-used with the newspaper’s permission. While it is focused on one hospital, the themes apply broadly. The type of leader that I describe is needed throughout health care.
Public hospitals such as Parkland are a public trust, serving the community’s health needs by providing safe and effective care to a population that lacks alternatives.
Major shortcomings in the quality of care provided at Parkland have eroded that trust. Now trust must be restored. The community is counting on it. It’s literally a matter of life and death.
Parkland’s board is searching for a new CEO to lead this journey. The CEO’s task will not be easy: Resources are tight, resident supervision is insufficient, staff morale is low, systems need updating, and preventable harm is far too common.
History may provide some guidance. Historian Rufus Fears notes that great leaders – leaders who changed the world – have four attributes: a bedrock of values, a clear moral compass, a compelling vision and the ability to inspire others to make the vision happen. Parkland needs one of these great leaders.
Nearly a year ago, one of my blog posts bemoaned a gap in our training of future physicians—a lack of training in the skills needed to lead projects in patient safety and quality improvement.
I wrote the post after speaking to a group of medical students who were energized about this area of work. Yet, as I reflected on the talk:
“I had to confront the sad reality that most of them will graduate ill-prepared to lead the improvements of quality and safety our health care system needs. They no doubt will know chemistry, biology and physiology, but they may not know about human factors, implementation science or performance measurement—the language of quality improvement. They will know orthopedics and genetics but they won’t know teamwork and systems engineering. They likely know about German scientist Rudolph Virchow, the father of cell theory, yet they do not know John Kotter, the father of change theory whose model for leading change is highly effective and widely used.”
So how can medical students, residents and fellows make quality improvement and patient safety a focus of their clinical careers? On Nov. 10, the Armstrong Institute and the American College of Medical Quality will be hosting the National Workshop on Quality for Medical Education—affordable and open to anyone—that focuses on how medical students, residents and fellows can integrate safety and quality into their clinical careers. What career paths exist? What tools and skills are needed to carry out this work, and where do you get them? What kinds of quality and safety projects are residents and students taking on?