Poor communication stymies safety, financial goals

The biggest barrier to hospitals ensuring patient safety is "lack of teamwork, negative culture and poor communication," a new survey finds.

Hospital C-suite executives and risk managers surveyed by American International Group Inc. (AIG) identified communication problems including nurses fearing retribution for raising patient safety issues, and patients being handed off multiple times to different hospital staffers and departments, which don't always coordinate or communicate well.

The findings also highlighted a conflict between what hospital leaders consider their number one priority and their number one threat in 2013: patient safety versus failing to maximize financial sustainability, according to an AIG announcement.

"Given that nearly half of every dollar spent on healthcare costs is related to a medical error, improvements in patient safety will provide a quick return on investment," Emily Rhinehart, R.N., vice president and division manager for AIG Healthcare Risk Consulting, said Friday in a statement.

A conflict also exists between who is responsible for patient safety and who "owns" the issue, according to the survey. While the executives contend all hospital personnel are responsible for safety, half say nurses "own" patient safety. Meanwhile, they place nurse turnover rates low on the scale of issues facing patient risk and hospital safety.

Only a sliver of the executives (4 percent) place full responsibility for patient safety on physicians.

The survey also found hospital leaders worry that technology and metrics meant to enhance patient safety can distract clinicians from safely providing care.

In fact, just last week researchers launched a project to develop tools to reduce patient safety risks related to clinical work systems enabled by electronic health records. High-risk areas being analyzed included computerized provider order entry (CPOE) and e-prescribing, clinical decision support, test result reporting, patient identification and provider communication.

Meanwhile, a study published in February's BMJ Quality & Safety found team training can transform a hospital's culture of safety.

To learn more:
- download the survey (.pdf)
- read the announcement
- here's the team training study abstract