But you'd never know this from the Patient Safety Movement. From day one when the Institute of Medicine report entitled "To Err is Human" was published in 1999, the nebulous "98,000 preventable deaths" number was circulated far and wide by media outlets. Strangely, this important publication was never made available free to physicians for review. But instantly, the media took notice of this sound bite. Breathless outrage ensued. Hospitals took notice. Even doctors and doctors' associations noticed. Worse yet, we were still told by the media and their self-appointed safety enthusiasts that "medical errors kill enough people to fill four jumbo jets a week." But to everyone's credit, we all did some real soul-searching.
So change came to our industry. Overnight, enough bureaucrats to bury the number of doctors in America three-fold were hired as patient safety do-gooders. Entire new organizations hell-bent on imposing their vision for the future of patient safety sprang up to guide large hospital organizations to their vision of patient safety nirvana. None were as influential as the organization called the Institute for Hospital Improvement (IHI) run by the soon-to-be knighted-as-acting-CMS-directorship, Donald Berwick, MD who made a cozy sum from the safety scare. This is the same "institute" that still provides mandated safety training to hospital systems across the US even today.
But a strange thing has happened. Despite their best intentions, after ten years of trying with more administrative hires and scores of new imperatives thrust on doctors and nurses with hours of carefully-constructed safety courses, and scores of white papers and media stories, not much has changed. To be fair, not all efforts have been worthless, but self-reflection on the negative consequences of this movement have been limited.
And in its place, physician burnout has exploded.
But this morning, I saw a glimmer of hope. People might be starting to do some introspection.
Take a minute and read Bob Wachter's post. It is a prescient view of the problems created by well-intentioned (but misguided) initiatives that ultimately fall on America's physicians and nurses to implement:
The lack of evidence that all our hard work is paying off is also contributing to burnout. Several influential papers (such as here and here), using the IHI’s Global Trigger Tool methodology, have documented continued high rates of harm; one study of 10 hospitals in North Carolina showed no evidence of improvement between 2002 and 2007. On top of that, a steady drumbeat of studies (beautifully chronicled by Brad Flansbaum) demonstrates that nearly every policy intervention that we thought would work (readmission penalties, “no pay for errors,” pay for performance, promotion of IT, resident duty-hour reductions) has either failed to work, or has led to negative unanticipated consequences. For people who have given their hearts and souls to making the system work better for patients, the result is more demoralization.
My second major concern about patient safety stems from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), one of whose main goals, paradoxically, is to place a premium on value over volume. You’d think that the patient safety field would benefit from such a law (which also includes significant new spending on safety), and perhaps it will… eventually. But in the short term, the ACA is yet another speed bump on the road to a safe system.
Just as physicians are overwhelmed and distracted, so too are hospital CEOs and boards. As the healthcare system lurches from its dysfunctional model to a (God willing) better place, healthcare leaders are scrambling to be sure that their organizations have seats when the music stops. The C-suite and boardroom conversations that, a few years ago, were focused on how to make systems better and safer now center on whether to become Accountable Care Organizations, how to achieve alignment with the medical staff, what the insurance exchange will mean for our reimbursement, and the like. To the degree that people remain interested in improved value, here too the emphasis has shifted from the numerator of the value equation (quality, safety, patient experience) to the denominator: cutting costs.
Read the whole thing again and think about what he's saying and what's coming unless real change that improves the burden these safety initiatives have on doctors and nurses occurs.
"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot."
- from"Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell-Wes