Patient safety events jumped amid COVID-19 strain on hospitals, Press Ganey reports

New data from patient experience intelligence firm Press Ganey echo prior reports that the pandemic era has broadly reversed hospitals’ gains against preventable patient safety events.

According to the firm, hospitals nationwide have seen a decline in safety performance through 2020. Starting with the onset of COVID-19, safety events increased across every hospital unit type tracked by the group: adult critical care, medical, step-down, high quality, moderate acuity, surgical and med-surg.

In particular, Press Ganey highlighted an increase in patient falls it saw across medical, step-down, surgical and med-surg units across the course of the year.

It also called out an increase in central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs) in high-quality and moderate-acuity units from the second to fourth quarters of the year, as well as a jump in stage two hospital-acquired pressure injuries across all seven unit types during the fourth quarter.

“Hospitals are in survival mode because of the virus, and this has driven unprecedented levels of burnout, turnover and staffing gaps,” Jeff Doucette, chief nursing officer at Press Ganey, said in a statement. “Our healthcare workers must give their energy and almost singular focus to COVID-19, and the ripple effect has exacerbated safety lapses and drift in hospitals.”

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Press Ganey’s analysis reviews patient outcome data submitted to the firm by 11,325 units hailing from more than 1,575 hospitals.

With the stressors of the COVID-19 response hampering safety performances and patient outcomes, Press Ganey called for hospitals across the industry to “recommit to the basics” such as safety data sharing and best practice implementation. Hospitals should also be open to providing refresher training, demonstrating leadership’s commitment to safety to encourage organizationwide reliability and encouraging staff to speak out about potential red flags, the group said.

“These increases in patient harm validate what we know anecdotally and emphasize the effects of an industry under the immense pressure of battling a sustained crisis,” said Tejal Gandhi, M.D., chief safety and transformation officer at Press Ganey. “However, the industry’s zero harm goal cannot be put on hold until after the pandemic has passed. These findings underscore the urgent need for a recommitment to high-reliability principles and safety culture now.”

Press Ganey’s findings fall in line with data released by the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) last month highlighting a leap in healthcare-associated infections over 2020. By the agency’s measure, reports of CLABSIs jumped as much as 47% year over year while quarterly ventilator-associated events rose 44.8% year over year.

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CDC also noted that the infection rates were a stark reversal of positive yearly trends, with leadership similarly calling for providers to double down on the basics of infection control and patient safety.

“Strengthening infection prevention and control capacities works,” Arjun Srinivasan, M.D., the CDC’s associate director of Healthcare Associated Infection Prevention Programs, said at the time. “This information emphasizes the importance of building stronger, deeper and broader infection control resources throughout healthcare that will not only improve our ability to protect patients in future pandemics but will also improve patient care every day.”

Calls for increased scrutiny around patient safety—as well as staff safety—at hospitals have also been at the heart of workforce and labor disputes. Warnings of burnout, limited resources and their resulting impact on care outcomes have lately led to more than a few strikes among nurses and other clinical staff.