Healthcare News & Insights

New guidance for patient safety

83405647In the current healthcare climate, patient safety is at the forefront of almost every hospital executive’s mind. The Joint Commission just released new safety guidelines that can help hospitals survive and thrive by bolstering their safety culture.

Health systems that are accredited by the Joint Commission must already follow a set of safety standards. The new guidance reinforces these standards, and it gives hospitals that aren’t accredited a framework for improving patient safety.

The guidance relies on three principles:

  1. Aligning existing standards with daily work to reduce harm to patients
  2. Assisting healthcare organizations by recommending methods to improve quality and safety processes, and
  3. Helping healthcare organizations create a safety culture that emphasizes accountability, trust and knowledge while reducing fear and blame.

Before a hospital can focus on providing its patients with a safer environment, it needs to focus on quality. Quality and safety are closely tied together, so it’s key to make sure quality care is a top priority. Hospitals can improve their quality by:

  • ensuring their processes are reliable
  • reducing variation and waste
  • focusing on achieving high outcomes for patients, and
  • using evidence and research to ensure services are effective

Execs’ role in hospital safety

Because quality and safety go hand in hand, creating a quality-focused environment is vital to building a culture of safety. Hospital execs who create policies with quality in mind will have the best outcomes, particularly as providing high quality care becomes more of a requirement for reimbursement from payors.

The Joint Commission’s guidance stresses that a hospital’s attitude toward its safety culture comes from the top. If execs treat safety policies as top priorities and don’t just see them as words written on paper, clinicians and other staff members will follow suit.

One of the most important factors for creating a culture of safety in your hospital is trust. If clinicians trust they can report issues without suffering negative consequences from it, they’ll be more likely to bring problems that may compromise patient safety to light.

Execs should encourage staff to report all errors, even those that seem small, so they can be corrected as soon as possible. And instead of punishing the parties responsible, the focus should be on prevention and shoring up weak spots in your hospital’s processes for care delivery.

Besides fostering an atmosphere focused on trust, execs can also build up their hospital’s safety culture by:

  • Promoting learning. Constant education helps maintain a facility’s safety culture. Staff should receive regular training on best practices and protocols for safety. And any errors should be seen as learning experiences and opportunities for improvement.
  • Motivating staff to uphold the hospital’s safety culture. Incentives may help staff to place more of a focus on safety culture. These don’t have to be financial. Giving positive attention to workers who bring safety issues to light may be enough of a reward in itself. You can highlight their efforts in a group email or on your hospital’s intranet.
  • Being transparent about safety. There should be no secrets when it comes to a hospital’s performance in meeting certain quality measures or preventing patient harm. Clinical staff needs to be fully aware of how well the hospital is meeting these objectives – and given incentives.

Focus on patients

Along with making sure your clinical staff has a positive attitude toward safety, patient engagement is also crucial to bolstering your hospital’s safety culture. If patients don’t make informed decisions about their care, or actively participate in their treatment while visiting the hospital, it could hurt their recovery.

That’s why the Joint Commission recommends that hospitals take a patient-centered approach to care delivery. Not only should patient safety be the guiding force behind decision making, but hospitals should make sure patients and their families are active partners at every level of care, from admission to discharge.

To achieve this, staff should be trained on compassionate, clear communication with patients and their families. Questions should be encouraged, and they should be answered using language that’s easy to understand. Additionally, there should be adequate staffing levels so that clinicians don’t feel rushed if patients or family members have multiple concerns they’d like addressed.

Other strategies that can help promote a patient-centered environment include shifting toward a transitional care model, where hospitals take more of an active role in helping patients receive follow-up care after discharge, or making better use of health information technology capabilities in electronic health records systems.

Whatever strategy a hospital chooses to improve its safety culture, keeping quality patient care at the forefront of any efforts for change will steer it in the right direction.

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