5 Ways to Improve Patient Care and Safety

5 Ways to Improve Patient Care and Safety
Senior Director of Marketing

If you’re familiar with PreCheck, you’ve probably heard this before, but ensuring patient safety is what drives everything that we do. During last year’s HealthStream Summit conference in Nashville, HealthStream’s Chief Executive Officer Robert Frist, Jr. cited a research study during the opening keynote presentation that referenced some alarming numbers concerning patient safety. Dr. John T. James’ study, published in the Journal of Patient Safety in September 2013, estimates that as many as 210,000 to 400,000 “premature deaths associated with preventable harm to patients” occur each year in the United States. I found these numbers alarming as an attendee, especially considering that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data show there were 2,468,435 deaths in 2010. If we are conservative and go with the lower estimate of 210,000, that still makes 8.5% deaths that are preventable each year.

In January, U.S. News announced it will make changes to the Best Hospitals rankings methodology this year. The role of patient safety will double while weight assigned to hospital reputation will drop. With the healthcare industry’s increased focus on patient safety, here are five ways your organization can take action to improve the aforementioned numbers.

1. Involve Patients More and Increase Engagement

According to an article published in Health Affairs in February 2013, “a growing body of evidence demonstrates that patients who are more actively involved in their healthcare experience better health outcomes and incur lower costs.” In fact, the engagement of patients in their own healthcare is one of the main goals of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) EHR Incentive Program (also called Meaningful Use). By educating and keeping patients informed, healthcare providers can help patients and their families play an active role in healthcare decision-making.

2. Outsource Your Hospital’s Peer Review Program

In a 2006 article published in Physician’s News Digest, Dr. Skip Freedman addresses the key issues with an internal peer review program: “Internal peer reviews impact doctors’ time, bring out competitive and personal biases and, more often than not, the doctors conducting the reviews are not working in an equivalent subspecialty.” By outsourcing your program to an independent review organization (IRO), you can eliminate conflicts of interest while giving your medical staff more time to focus on their patients.

3. Embrace Simulation-based Training

Another of the takeaways from last year’s HealthStream conference is the use of simulation-based training in healthcare. In a study from Current Opinion in Anesthesiology published in April 2013, researchers Shear et al. state, “research suggests that simulation-based team training can reduce patient mortality and improve quality of care as measured by surgical quality improvement measures.” While Shear et al. acknowledge that further research is necessary to better qualify the benefits of simulation training on patient safety, embracing this form of training at your healthcare organization presents an opportunity to improve quality of care.

4. Establish a Comprehensive Background Screening Policy

While a comprehensive background screening program may not directly affect quality of care, it’s the responsible thing to do and cannot only impact patient safety, but also your facility’s integrity and reputation. If you outsource your background checks, make sure you work with a vendor that has the knowledge and background in healthcare, as there are industry-specific regulations and accreditation standards that impact your facility. Don’t forget about your medical staff services office—it’s important to have a physician background screening program at appointment and re-appointment as well. Finally, if you use a staffing company to help you meet your goals, ensure they perform the same level of background checks as set forth in your policy.

5. Adopt Ongoing Exclusion and Background Screening Measures

In May 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a Special Advisory Bulletin in which it recommends all healthcare providers to perform exclusion and sanction screenings on all staff on a monthly basis. Healthcare compliance officers have since advised their organizations to comply with the OIG’s guidance—it’s the best way to avoid civil monetary penalties. While conducting monthly criminal background checks on your hospital staff is probably not a reasonable practice, healthcare organizations are finding that conducting background checks at time of hire is not sufficient enough. Criminal background checks only represent a moment in time, so there is no guarantee that your facility will be safe in the long-term. At PreCheck, for example, we work with healthcare systems that conduct background checks inexpensively on a yearly basis. With patient care at stake, it’s critical to have proactive screening measures in place.

What is your facility doing to improve patient safety? Leave us a comment below.

PreCheck Background Screening Resource Kit

Freedman, Skip. “Independent Review Organizations for Peer Review.” Physician’s News Digest. 2006 Sept.
“Health Policy Brief: Patient Engagement,” Health Affairs, February 14, 2013.
James, John T. "A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care." Journal of Patient Safety. 2013 Sept;9(3):122-128.
Shear, Torin D.; Greenberg, Steven B.; Tokarczyk, Arthur. “Does Training With Human Patient Simulation Translate to Improved Patient Safety and Outcome?” Current Opinion in Anesthesiology. 2013 Apr;26(2):159-163.