National Patient Safety Board necessary to prevent patient deaths

Preventing hospital deaths involves improving the accessibility of medical records, increasing accountability for clinicians and creating a National Patient Safety Board, patient safety advocate John T. James, Ph.D., told West Health in a recent interview.

The interview with James, a former chief toxicologist for a federal agency who attributes the loss of his son to preventable medical errors, is the first in the publication's series that commemorates the anniversary of the Institute of Medicine's 1999 report "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System." It comes amid a big week for the patient safety movement, as a government report released Tuesday found that hospital-acquired conditions have dropped 17 percent between 2011 and 2013, resulting in 50,000 fewer deaths and saving the industry $12 billion, FierceHealthcare reported.

But the danger is still very real: Research has indicated that hospital medical errors lead to more than 400,000 deaths per year.

James told West Health that the most important measure to reduce patient harm is to institute 360-degree performance reviews for all clinical workers. He envisions healthcare workers would be the sole recipients of patients' anonymous reviews for two years, giving the workers time to address their shortcomings, and then the reviews would be publicly available.

"Nurses, doctors, and even patients to a lesser extent, know who could be a dangerous doctor, but there are no proven resources to identify these individuals," he told West Health.

Healthcare workers should also evaluate themselves, James said, by completing job satisfaction surveys that would be available to the public.

From an administrative standpoint, James also wants to see greater interoperability between medical records, saying the fragmentation of information in the medical community can seriously impact the quality of patient care.

The Patient Safety Movement Foundation, which is working toward the goal of eliminating preventable hospital deaths by 2020, makes a similar point, indicating in its mission statement that it aims to "unify the healthcare ecosystem" and create a "Patient Data Super Highway" to help identify at-risk patients.

To truly amp up accountability from the healthcare industry, James also advocates creating a National Patient Safety Board, which would follow the model of other regulatory agencies like the National Transportation Safety Board and Consumer Product Safety Commission, and would be run by leaders in the patient safety movement.

"The well-known limitations and secret-keeping of state medical boards and hospital accreditation organizations would become history," he told West Health.

To learn more:
- check out the interview

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