What’s the key to accelerating progress in patient safety over the next five years?

Richard Corder

Richard Corder, FACHE, CPXP, is a partner at  Wellesley Partners, Ltd. in Wellesley, Massachusetts

We cannot continue doing what we’re doing in health care and expect different results. Whether measured by lives lost to avoidable harm or the human toll of burnout, the status quo is no longer an option.

The systems, practices and policies that are producing our current outcomes were created and are sustained by leaders. Leadership is a practical skill that can be learned and refined. In its purest form, it is the ability to influence others to move together toward a result. 

The skills needed for running a safe workplace are not unique to health care. Having a clinical background or deep experience in health care should not be pre-requisites for a leadership role. A well-developed ability to build effective teams, confront others with dignity and respect, use data effectively, adopt appropriate technologies and engage heads and hearts throughout the organization are the attributes we need for C-suites and hospital boards.

The key to accelerating progress toward safer care? Leadership.

Current methods for collecting and disseminating data (safety, quality and especially patient feedback) are cumbersome. Leaders need real-time data and the ability to share it across the hospital or health care system, as well as smart technologies that save time and money with less human intervention. Technological solutions to scheduling, accessing and sharing test results free people up to do the work of caring and healing. 

Leaders also need to re-think education and training. Team-based programs that model the collaborative approach necessary to care for patients will be essential as we look to the future. Technology-supported training platforms, such as virtual simulation, that reduce the need for classrooms or simulation centers and respect the needs and the resources of the adult learner need to become commonplace in the near term.   

The practice of medicine is “high risk” in and of itself. Finding opportunities to standardize work and reduce risk in practice must become a norm for health care. 

Standard operating procedures, internal service agreements and specific behavior compacts must be co-created and adopted. Much of the culture of health care, based on a history of independent contractors, stand-alone practice and siloed learning, is not conducive to excellence in safety.

Dr. Paul Batalden says, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” To make real progress over the next five years, we need leaders with the ability and commitment to redesign systems to ensure safer outcomes.


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