Patient Safety: Going Well Beyond a Checklist

With National Patient Safety Awareness Week coming to a close, we thought we would give some attention to this important topic.

In following this week’s articles, blog posts and tweets, much of the discussion about patient safety has centered on the treatment a patient receives during a procedure or hospital stay, so we asked Dr. Gary Ferguson, one of TIBCO’s Chief Healthcare Strategists, for his perspective. In his words he feels strongly that: “Many of these approaches are treating the symptoms, and not the cause.”

This is a good point. Take for example the case of hospital readmissions. It’s well known that CMS will begin penalizing hospitals if their readmission rate exceeds standards.

So what should caregivers be focused on in order to achieve patient safety, and how does technology fit into the overall goals?

Operationalize Data to Avoid Problems: The factors that lead to readmission often occur days or weeks before the patient walks (or is wheeled) back through the hospital doors. The problem is the right information never gets to the right person who can take action to prevent it.

A Dartmouth Atlas Project found that only 42.9 percent of patients visited their doctor within two weeks of hospital discharge. While this is a common data point in predicting a readmission, a single factor may not be enough to warrant action. But by correlating multiple data streams and events, a risk profile can be calculated for each patient, which triggers alerts for a physician or nurse to take action.

According to Dr. Ferguson, “Healthcare is the epitome of a Big Data problem. Information is gathered about nearly every aspect of a patient’s experience, but if it just goes into a database for analysis after-the-fact, it’s worthless. By getting the right information to the right person who can take action immediately, we can change outcomes.”

Use Social Media: Social media isn’t just for “socializing.” In a secure, patient-centric social media environment, the care management team can be alerted of risks immediately through their mobile devices, and collaborate in real time to resolve the situation.

“When extended to the patient’s family as well, the expanded support network can be involved in post-discharge care, making sure the prescriptions are filled and appointments are kept,” adds Dr. Ferguson.

Integrate Human Processes: The majority of the work in healthcare remains in the hands of human beings and won’t be automated in the foreseeable future.

“One of the most effective ways to ensure patient safety is to standardize and improve care pathways to ensure that the best possible treatment is shared knowledge and consistently applied. Broken handoffs, gaps and duplications can only be eliminated when we manage the human work in a systematic way that is continually improved and reinforced.

“It’s only by addressing all aspects of the patient experience that an environment of patient safety can truly be achieved,” Dr. Ferguson concludes.

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