The crucial “Patient Safety Movement”

patient safety

Wait – patient safety needs to be a “movement”? Isn’t that just what hospitals DO?

Sure, yes, but consider that in 1990 studies showed that 90,000 Americans died in hospitals yearly due to medical errors. Twenty-plus years later, we recognize the number is more than TWICE that.

I know. Yikes.

Errors in hospitals are now the third leading cause of death in the United States, so a growing group of medical and tech leaders are pledging to solve this huge problem. Last weekend I attended the second annual Patient Safety Movement Summit, led by Joe Kiani of Massimo (a medical device company that helps find heart defects in newborns before they go home from the hospital). Joe is a charismatic leader with a BHAG: Zero preventable patient deaths by 2020.

“I suppose you expect me to tell you this goal is impossible,” said Mark Chassin, MD, CEO of The Joint Commission (the nation’s top hospital certifying agency). “But I won’t. It starts with a commitment to that goal, which we must do.”

Dr. Chassin also said this: “This is not rocket science. It’s much harder than that. Rocket science is simply getting machines to do what you want 99.99% of the time. Eliminating preventable patient deaths is getting PEOPLE to do what you want 99.99% of the time.”

What kinds of mistakes are we talking about? Lots, including: Giving the wrong medication or the wrong dose, post-operative respiratory depression, pressure sores, blood stream infections, leaving things inside a patient when you sew them up, falls, ventilator-associated pneumonia…and on and on.

How is Valley Medical Center doing? Proudly, very well…but we’re not perfect. One example: VMC cares for large numbers of patients who need a ventilator to breathe…and a while back we went 30 months without a ventilator-associated pneumonia case. That’s extraordinary.

But then we had one. And to that patient, and that family, it’s a big deal no matter our past track record. Any error is, and there’s so much we can do and must do. Medical devices and tech can help, but as Thomas Zeltner, MD of the World Health Organization told us, it’s truly about three things: Culture, culture, culture.

Less fear of transparency and ranking of hospitals, more accountability, more (if you can believe it) hand-washing, greater commitment to this cause—that and more is needed. We’ve got good company and help: Bill Clinton, Barbara Boxer, top hospitals and medical device manufacturers…they were all there with us pledging to work together and to share best practices.  I’m now believing we can do this as a nation.

So what about the VMC Foundation? How can we help? We’ll do what we’ve always done: Work to raise money and support the work of our nurses, doctors and everyone at VMC for whom patient safety runs in their veins. We’ll celebrate our victories and laud the innovators and milestones. Thankfully we have lots of those here at YOUR public hospital….but we need your help. If you want to know how your contribution could translate to improving safety at Valley Medical Center, call me.

A big thanks to Joe Kiani for launching this movement. A bigger thanks to the hundreds, thousands who will help grow it.

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