Healthcare News & Insights

Handling top challenges hospitals face with patient safety

Hospitals have tried many tactics to boost patient safety and improve outcomes, but often their efforts are thwarted by different issues. Some of them aren’t in a facility’s control, but according to a new federal report, others are. 

ThinkstockPhotos-78606064The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created a report about the current state of patient safety in hospitals.

And while every facility is different, there are some areas that slip through the cracks.

3 safety hurdles

The GAO talked to several hospitals of varying sizes and different patient mixes. Officials from these facilities identified three big challenges that made it difficult to implement new initiatives for improving patient safety:

  1. Getting the data required to identify when adverse events occur. It’s tough for hospitals to get useful information about adverse events that affect patient care. The biggest reason officials cited was a lack of time and resources for compiling and analyzing the data.
  2. Deciding which patient safety practices should be implemented. Once hospitals are ready to make changes to improve patient safety, many officials don’t know which approach to use. Some don’t have much evidence supporting them, and others may not be financially feasible. As a result, instead of using targeted strategies, many hospitals try a handful of practices to improve safety, not looking at any of them close enough to see what works.
  3. Making sure staff are consistent with new practices. Even if hospitals manage to find an approach that’s effective, keeping staff on task with following new protocols can be a big challenge. Results must constantly be monitored, and staff may need repeated reminders through follow-up training and other reinforcement. Many facilities just don’t have the resources to do so.

Achieving success

To work around these challenges, the hospitals interviewed for the report had to get creative.

Because resources were limited, facilities became more creative with the ones they had at their disposal, including:

  • Staff with patient safety expertise. Instead of bringing in outside consultants to improve patient safety, facilities relied on designated staff members who already had a great deal of knowledge on the topic, including infection control specialists. Hospitals used them to train other staffers on patient safety practices and monitor the changes, making sure any problems were quickly addressed. These specialists also helped hospitals weed through all the research and information about best practices to find the ones that fit their facility best.
  • Work groups made up of physicians, hospital management and other clinical staff. Here, clinicians who are on the front lines work with managers and on-staff patient safety specialists to identify adverse events so they can find out why they happen and how to prevent them. This way, specialists have input from doctors and nurses about how care is handled on a practical level. So together, they can come up with a strategy to improve patient outcomes that’s in line with the hospital’s normal care delivery. That makes it more likely the changes will stick.

More suggestions

As a way to assist in these efforts, the GAO made several suggestions as to how life can be made easier for hospitals, including having Medicare and other commercial payors be more transparent about how value-based care initiatives, such as accountable care organizations (ACOs), achieved success in reducing adverse events. That way, hospitals would have clear models to follow.

The GAO also suggests that more carriers provide hospitals with technical assistance and other nonfinancial, direct support to put initiatives in place that improve patient safety. Specifically, more assistance with data sharing and achieving interoperability through electronic health records (EHR) systems is needed.

Until this happens, hospitals’ best bet is to get creative with the resources already available to them, taking advantage of a teamwork approach to find the solution that works best for their hospital’s patient mix, staff and mission.

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