Thursday, March 12, 2009

Patient Safety Awareness Week, Reflections

It’s Patient Safety Awareness Week and as it comes to an end, I want to reflect back what this week has been like as a patient safety advocate. I am so grateful that the National Patient Safety Foundation recognizes the importance of patients and families having a voice in patient safety. But, at a national level, that’s often all it is, a voice. What is being done, at a local level to include the patient and the community in patient safety? In my opinion it is still a big fat nothing (at least in New York).

I had the honor of sitting in at a presentation at a NY City health system for their leadership and another on Long Island for their whole health system. In both cases, they talked about patient safety, told stories of injuries or death and shared statistics. The IOM report was mentioned that as many as 98,000 people die in hospitals each year from preventable medical errors. I can’t imagine that 10 years after that report, there is anyone in senior leadership who isn’t aware of it. And, if newer staff aren’t aware of the report, why aren’t the medical and nursing schools teaching it?

To hear these presentations are bittersweet, I know we need to talk about patient safety to make patient safety happen. Talking is the start. But there should be more than talk.

I really believe that with my own presentations, and I am doing quit a few of them the last few weeks, I am offering more to hospitals and medical staff on what can be done to reduce errors than what I hear at these presentations. What is needed now is what the Institute for Healthcare Improvement offers; best practices. I am offering best practices and ways to include the patient and family. But by inviting me in to speak, am I leaving them with anything to “do”? I think I am. Are they doing it? I may never know.

I know that medical staff are told what to do to reduce the rate of injury or death, and Patient Safety Awareness Week is a time to (maybe) celebrate all they are doing. It would give me greater satisfaction if they used this time to include the patient and their family in this work. The hospitals and health systems should be practicing safe care all year, they could celebrate any time. But for Patient Safety Awareness Week it could be better spent by informing patients, and the community about what their role is in partnering in their care.

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