Pronovost's new mission: Convincing health systems to tell a different story

Peter Pronovost, M.D., said hospitals that are successful at reaching zero infections do one thing differently. “They transparently reported results and had clear accountability,” Pronovost said. “If you had an infection, someone asked why.” (Patient Safety Movement Foundation)

When someone hears the name Peter Pronovost, they think of checklists.

Specifically, they think of the patient safety checklist he launched at Johns Hopkins Hospital after the tragic death of a young patient from a catheter infection in 2001. The checklist helped ensure healthcare workers were consistently following basic protocols, like washing their hands. It has helped reduce hospital-acquired infections due to catheters by 85% since 1999.

Pronovost, M.D., who recently began a gig as University Hospitals’ chief clinical transformation officer after a brief stint at UnitedHealthcare, has a new mission: to help change the narrative of healthcare organizations to believe that, even as a high-risk industry, zero patient deaths are actually possible.

Conference

13th Partnering with ACOS & IDNS Summit

This two-day summit taking place on June 10–11, 2019, offers a unique opportunity to have invaluable face-to-face time with key executives from various ACOs and IDNs from the entire nation – totaling over 3.5 million patients served in 2018. Exclusively at this summit, attendees are provided with inside information and data from case studies on how to structure an ACO/IDN pitch, allowing them to gain the tools to position their organization as a “strategic partner” to ACOs and IDNs, rather than a merely a “vendor.”

“Words matter. They matter deeply because they create how we feel, those feelings generate stories that we tell and those stories drive how we behave,” Pronovost said, speaking at the Patient Safety Movement summit over the weekend.

RELATED: Patient safety expert Peter Pronovost will depart Johns Hopkins' Armstrong Institute to join UnitedHealthcare

So he told a story about his own trip to one of the U.S. military’s massive aircraft carriers. On board, as he spoke with an admiral on the ship, he met a man who was in charge of sweeping the deck. “I asked that gentleman what job he does,” Pronovost said. “He stood up tall and proud, looked me in the eye and said, ‘Sir, I help the planes take off and land safely to serve the mission of the United States.’ I said, ‘Whoa, that’s a guy connected to his purpose.’"

Pronovost asked the same question of an environmental services worker at a hospital. The man looked down sheepishly, Pronovost said. "‘I clean the rooms,’ he said. He didn’t say, ‘I’m an infection prevention specialist.'” 

Those two stories make perfect sense in the context of what happened with his checklist, he said. When the idea of having a goal of zero hospital infections was first unveiled, people thought he was crazy.

“Clinician in this training just accepted that sometimes, when you care for sick people, little girls will die,” Pronovost said. “We accepted harm as inevitable. “

But some organizations that used the checklist were able to reach zero infections while others weren’t. What made the difference? Those hospitals’ leaders declared a goal of zero infections and created an enabling infrastructure including project management, training, data and feedback to make it easier for clinicians to be successful, Pronovost said. 

RELATED: Johns Hopkins' Pronovost makes the interoperability case

“They transparently reported results and had clear accountability,” Pronovost said. “If you had an infection, someone asked why.”

Studying the topic further, Pronovost partnered with anthropologists to interview hundreds of clinicians to help understand what happened at a deeper level at the successful hospitals.

“What we found was profound. You could see in their eyes what they believed in their hearts: They started telling a new story,” he said. “When we started, they said, 'These infections are inevitable … I’m powerless to stop it.' They got to zero when they told a new narrative.”

Suggested Articles

The FTC is suing Surescripts, accusing the health IT company of employing illegal restraints to maintain its monopolies over the e-prescribing market.

Following the death of a nurse who was attacked by a patient, ZDoggMD says action is needed to end the violence against healthcare workers.

In the event of another economic downturn, health insurers would be more resilient today than they were in 2008, according to a new report.