March 8th-14th has been designated patient safety awareness week. According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, or IHI, the purpose of this week is to inspire action and continue the push towards safer practices in healthcare. Despite recent progress, medical harm is still cited as a leading cause of death across the world. Therefore, this week of awareness seeks to put an end to this by advocating for change in the industry.
Patient Safety as it Stands Today
In the United States, as many as 400,000 deaths occur as a result of preventable harm or medical error. An even greater number of patients are victims of mistakes that do not necessarily end in death. That is a shocking number for a country that boasts some of the most highly esteemed hospitals and doctors in the world. Every day patients put their trust and their lives in the hands of medical professionals. Of course, the vast majority of patients will not be harmed during their medical care. However, the industry owes it to its patients to minimize that risk wherever possible.
A Call to Action
IHI has put together an action plan for combating medical harm. They acknowledge that with the rapidly growing advances in medical technology, there is an ever widening margin for error. Safety practices need to keep up with medical and technological advancement. Human error is natural and inevitable, but systems help us avoid error as efficiently as possible.
According to their action plan, the institute advocates for a standardized approach. While safety practices have been steadily improving over the years, efforts have often been piecemeal. Without a consistent and unified system in place, some safety implementations are destined to fail. In situations like these, more focus is put on finger-pointing than addressing the systemic cause. The institute posits, “most improvement initiatives only succeed when leadership, culture, and patient engagement are fully aligned with the objective of greater safety.”
Implementing a Framework
A framework for standardizing safety practices was developed by IHI in conjunction with the Centers for Disease control. This framework consists of the following five major steps :
- Define the problem and set national goals.
- Coordinate activities across multiple sectors to ensure widespread adoption and evaluation.
- Inform, educate and empower the community.
- Effectively measure and monitor progress at all levels.
- Identify causes and interventions that work.
Patients and healthcare professionals should take the time this awareness week to learn about this framework and efforts to improve patient safety. This issue requires advocates from both sides of the equation. A safer healthcare industry means a healthier healthcare industry overall.
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