Improving Patient Safety with Collaboration and Vigilance

By Geoff Caplea, MD, MBA, Medical Director for the Allscripts Patient Safety Program
Twitter: @Allscripts
Twitter: @GeoffCaplea

Like most clinicians, the reason I entered healthcare was to help people. While not unique to me, this simple passion led me to medical school, to become a family physician, and to work in health information technology (IT). Every day technology touches the lives of patients and providers and helps them realize the safest, highest quality, and most cost-effective care. My desire to help others is why I am a champion for health IT, patient safety and clinician well-being.

Twenty years after the National Academy of Medicine (NAM)’s To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System report, patient safety advocates are still confronting the leading culprit of patient harm – medical errors. Recent reports indicate that the To Err is Human report was an underestimate, with an updated estimate of more than 250,000 deaths annually due to medical errors, as reported by The BMJ. This updated figure makes medical errors the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Patient safety is a shared responsibility
To make progress, we need to acknowledge that healthcare is a complex, chaotic and messy system. To achieve a safer healthcare system, ALL stakeholders must work together with a singular purpose to ensure the safety of our patients.

Shared responsibility is this understanding that we all have a part to play in achieving system safety and that everyone – you, me, patients, families, clinicians, leaders, developers, researchers, policy makers, etc. – must align and cooperate to guarantee the highest level of safety is achieved in patient care.

Shared responsibility is also an organizational commitment to safety, collaboration and communication within and across teams and disciplines, and proactive identification and elimination of hazards to deliver the safest, highest quality care possible.

Through health IT solutions, we have an incredible opportunity to address both patient safety and clinician well-being in meaningful and significant ways. For example, clinician burnout is a system problem with an incredible number of contributing factors and requires a multifaceted, multi-stakeholder response to effectively address the problem. Health IT is one aspect of the system that affects clinician experience, burden and burnout. Acknowledging this reality is the first step in embracing the huge opportunity to create solutions that alleviate clinician burden.

My co-workers, fellow clinicians and others have interacted with stakeholders across the healthcare industry, such as the Electronic Health Records Association (EHRA) and the Partnership for Health IT Patient Safety, to advocate for safety and safe use of health IT in improving the quality and safety of patient care. And all of us recognize the value of collaborating with others to patient safety.

Overcoming the biggest challenge: complacency
The biggest challenge for patient safety advocates is organizational complacency. Because healthcare is so complex, chaotic and high stakes (patient lives are on the line every day), we cannot afford to let down our guard. We must be focused and vigilant.

Hazards are inherent to healthcare. Equally important, we must fully comprehend the critical role health IT plays in designing, developing and delivering solutions that help patients and clinicians improve health and eliminate harm.

For the sake of everyone who is or will someday be a patient – our friends, our families, ourselves – we must never cease in finding new and innovative ways to deliver the safest, highest quality healthcare that is free from harm.

It takes all of us in healthcare to focus on and improve patient safety. Learn more in Patient Safety: 20 years after “To Err is Human,” with insights on patient safety from healthcare providers, patients, clinicians, vendors and other authors.