CEO Blog: A New Era of Patient Safety

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Over the last 20 years, Americans have witnessed unprecedented advances in care of hospitalized patients. Improved diagnostic procedures, quantum leaps in medical technology, enhanced treatments and a public now familiar with the concept of preventative medical care all mean that healthcare – especially in the hospital – has changed to meet the health care needs of today’s patients.

And while the advances in hospitalized care are largely positive, the increased touch points between patients and healthcare providers have increased the risk of errors and of preventable infections. New research published this month in Health Affairs reveals that about one-in-three Americans encounters some kind of adverse event during a hospital stay, demonstrating that much more needs to be done to improve patient safety.

Which is why we support the Obama Administration’s new focus on patient safety and reducing preventable errors. The new Partnership for Patients will work with doctors, hospitals, insurers and employers to support patient safety improvements and reductions in preventable hospital readmissions.

It couldn’t come at a better time.

While hospitals have made important strides to reduce healthcare associated infections, there is still much work to be done to eliminate them completely.

Every American should receive safe, high quality healthcare. That’s the goal driving the work between the Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies, the Society of Hospital Medicine, the American Hospital Association and their partners in healthcare across the country to promote programs that improve the way care is delivered in the hospital.

The good news? We have a roadmap forward.

Many hospitals, hospitalists and insurers have already begun the journey toward improved patient safety and reduced hospital readmissions. And their experience will pave the way for millions of Americans to receive safer care. A new report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows a 35 percent reduction in central line-associated bloodstream infections in hospitals participating in AHA’s Comprehensive Unit-Based Safety Program.

Creating financial incentives to reward quality instead of quantity of healthcare delivered is a major way to drive better and safer patient quality care. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield system has taken the lead in experimenting with many different payment systems meant to reward higher quality and has partnered with hospitals and other providers to directly support important safety improvement activities.

Working closely with hospitals and partners on the widespread adoption of life-saving health information technology like electronic medical records, and adopting “e-prescriptions” to flag and prevent potentially life-threatening drug interactions on a real-time basis, is also bearing real results.

Making sure that patients continue to get the care they need after they leave the hospital is critical to reducing readmissions. This means ensuring that patients understand the instructions on taking and monitoring their medications.

In communities across the country, initiatives and partnerships to help eliminate healthcare-acquired conditions, reduce hospital readmissions and prevent surgical errors and drug complications are helping to save thousands of lives each day.

Today, in more than 60 hospitals across the country, hospitalists are teaming up with nurses, primary care physicians and others to make the discharge transition out of the hospital smoother and safer through a new program called Project BOOST. In Michigan, the University of Michigan, the Society of Hospital Medicine and Blue Cross and Blue Shield partnered with hospitals to bring the program to 14 sites throughout the state. And that’s just the beginning; SHM is now recruiting new sites for a similar partnership in Illinois.

Like many patient safety initiatives, reducing preventable readmissions doesn’t just mean better care; it also reduces the drain on our public and private healthcare systems.

While progress has been made through such initiatives that maintain a safe surgical environment by the use of proven safety protocols, or make hospital-to-home transitions safer through the coordination of care, more must be done to protect patients and keep them from harm.

We need to build on these results, and work with the government and other stakeholders to take patient safety to the next level. This increased focus on patient safety is a welcome addition that will no doubt raise awareness and add momentum to efforts already underway. It will take a determined and sustained effort by everyone – from hospital boards to hospitalists, insurers, employers and consumers – to make patient safety a top priority.

Together, as hospitals, payers and clinicians, we support the spirit of this initiative by committing to the time, effort and innovation necessary to truly improve patient safety.

Because no American seeking healthcare should have to worry about getting safe care.

Scott P. Serota, is President and Chief Executive Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Jeff Wiese, MD, SFHM, President of Society of Hospital Medicine and Rich Umbdenstock, President American Hospital Association.