3 steps for small practices to address patient safety

Small physician practices often don't have the same resources as larger organizations to formalize patient safety initiatives, but that doesn't mean they should ignore the risks. Much guidance is available to healthcare organizations in how to reduce problems such as falls and infections, and a recent Urology Times article highlights advice that is most practical for physician offices.

Consider the following three opportunities to keep patients safer in your practice, Robert A. Dowling, M.D., vice president of medical affairs and policy for IntrinsiQ Specialty Solutions, writes:

Evaluate office culture. For many practices, the first step in improving patient safety is evaluating their current culture, according to Dowling. The National Quality Forum (NQF), for example, recommends: "Healthcare organizations must measure their culture, provide feedback to the leadership and staff, and undertake interventions that will reduce patient safety risk." The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has developed a free online toolkit for this purpose.

Promote a culture of safety. Next, practices can take more concrete measures to boost safety awareness, accountability and communication. At this point, offices can easily carry out NQF recommendations such as incorporating safety in a mission statement, appointing a patient safety officer, encouraging reports of errors and near misses without fear of consequences, patient safety education for all staff members and communication strategies by leadership to the other physicians and staff, Dowling says.

Conduct a risk assessment. While performing a formal study or hiring a consultant may not be feasible for small practices, they can adopt elements of existing tools, such as those from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, to use on their own. A practice's first analysis could be, for example, to identify five procedures it performs that involve risks to patient safety, followed by identifying what could go wrong during such procedures and possible causes. Ultimately, practices can use this data to develop new risk-prevention strategies and opportunities for improvement.

To learn more:
- read the article
- see the AHRQ toolkit
- check out the IHI tools