VIEWPOINT: Let's create a culture of hospital safety

January 29, 2007

As Hoosiers jump into this new year, it is important that all Indiana health care providers resolve to improve patient safety. Since health care providers hold the public trust, they have a responsibility to all patients to deliver optimal health care in a safe environment.

Studies show that most medical errors result from "system" errors, not people errors, so our state must create a culture of safety that encourages our medical professionals to report errors and highlight processes and procedures that need to change to prevent medical mistakes. We need to support a culture that makes reporting errors not only acceptable, but expected.

Public reporting and performance measurement can save lives and should be taken into account as health care providers make efforts to improve patient safety by reducing medical errors. The No. 1 priority must remain the patient, and we have to challenge ourselves to identify problems before they result in system errors or deaths. Therefore, we as a health care community must remain focused on changing systems of care to prevent medical errors.

As we continue our patient-safety initiatives, public-safety officials and the local media outlets have a responsibility to respect the patient, family and clinicians involved when a crisis has occurred at a health care facility.

Our medical professionals care for the most critically ill and critically injured patients in the state, and when they are personally threatened with prosecution and negative publicity, other clinical staff become apprehensive about reporting data, fearing the public backlash. This presents a problem as we strive to improve our systems and offer higher levels of patient safety.

Beginning in 2007, a law mandates that hospitals report adverse events to the Indiana State Department of Health. This report will then be made public on the department's Web site.

The idea is to promote transparency, and enhance the quality of care provided to consumers. We need to ensure that health care information is readily available and easy to understand for our health consumers.

Transparency is about being open about the quality of care we provide to the public. When quality and safety issues are hidden, there is no accountability to the health provider. It is our responsibility as health care professionals to increase the accessibility of health care information for patients in our state.

In 2007, we must continue to seek a health care environment that is safe for all patients and families. By implementing patient safety initiatives that prevent medical errors, improving health systems and encouraging an open culture that is free of blame, we will make significant steps in providing the high level of care our patients expect from Indiana health care providers.

Caponi is CEO of St. Vincent Health.
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