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Patient safety front and center for industry coalition

The topic of patient safety is front and center for a group of healthcare organizations. Led by Information and Quality Healthcare, the Mississippi Patient Safety Coalition was formed to foster the development of a statewide culture of safety. It’s a collaborative effort made up of 11 key state organizations.

Though the Institute of Medicine’s “To Err is Human” report rocked the healthcare industry a few years ago, it brought a keener public focus to the issues of patient safety, and, as a result, safety has increased.

“Medical errors actually are down since 1997 or ’98 when patient safety first came to the attention with that national report,” said Dr. James McIlwain, president of Information and Quality Healthcare. “We recognized it and are paying more attention to it.”

Going local

He says it’s been an intention of physicians and hospitals to have a statewide effort geared to patient safety for some time.

“Most of the effort has been done by hospitals and that’s true nationwide,” he said. “We felt like we needed more than local effort, and we brought in the full range of providers and professionals for our first summit last fall. We wanted to have a place we could coordinate and find out what’s going on.”

The Mississippi Patient Safety Coalition Summit will be an annual event, and the group will begin having other events this year.

Dr. Marcella McKay, vice president for nursing and professional affairs with the Mississippi Hospital Association (MHA), says that hospitals statewide are focusing on patient safety as a high priority.

“Along with hospitals across the U.S., our hospitals are particularly concentrating in 2007 on proper patient identification, improved communication among caregivers, medication safety, reducing healthcare-associated infections, preventing patient falls and encouraging patients’ active involvement in their own care,” she said.

She points out that MHA has an active patient safety special interest group that meets quarterly to network, learn about safety issues and share best practices.

“Attendees represent a broad array of hospital employees from medicine, nursing, pharmacy, lab, information services and more,” McKay said. “Their educational programs focus on how healthcare professionals and patients can work together to assure that care received in Mississippi hospitals is safe, effective and compassionate.”

McIlwain and McKay say errors are caused more by systems failure than failure by people.

“Usually it’s errors caused by the way we work, the systems of healthcare, not by a person. It’s better to have a process to fix it,” McIlwain said. “I’m optimistic about our efforts. We’re off to a good start.”

Both affirm the importance of patient participation in ensuring safety. “We encourage patients to be partners in their care. They should speak up if they notice something they don’t think is right. We in healthcare want you to speak up,” McKay said. “Healthcare professionals are highly trained but aren’t infallible.”

She adds that some safety measures are highly technical and others are just common sense. That includes things such as strict hand washing, paying attention to name badges and not taking them off and patients paying attention to medications.

Not worse?

McIlwain says that although errors happen in Mississippi, they are no worse than anywhere else. “With effort, errors have been reduced. The hospitals especially are working on it, and we’re trying to get physicians more involved,” he said. “We want them to use computers to exchange information. We’ll extend the campaign to their offices this year and have a piece for consumers, too.”

The coalition is collecting best practices from Mississippi providers and encourages anyone who would like to share ideas to send their information by e-mail to slea@mhanet.org.

About Lynn Lofton

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