Four Ways to Put Patient Safety First

How does your hospital rank in terms of patient safety? Most healthcare administrators would be quick to say their hospitals put safety first, but that isn’t the case at every hospital. A 2014 report from the Leapfrog Group suggests that one in 25 patients gets a hospital-acquired infection (HAI) and approximately 400,000 patients die from HAIs, surgical mistakes and other medical harm every year. Another 1.4 million patients are seriously hurt by their hospital care, Consumer Reports says.

As part of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to lower the amount of HAIs and hospital readmissions, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began imposing financial penalties on hospitals that perform poorly in regard to HAIs and granting incentives to hospitals that perform well. To address these goals, here are four tips to reduce the number of hospital readmissions and improve patient safety at your facility.

1. Practice good hand hygiene. Several studies show that hospital staff members comply with hand-washing rules—such as cleansing with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizers—only 50 percent of the time, the Wall Street Journal reports. Hand hygiene can reduce the transmission of germs and the number of HAIs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.

2. Ensure units are well staffed. According to research from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, hospitals with low nurse staffing levels tend to have higher rates of poor patient outcomes. With a heavy workload, nurses may not have enough time to perform the needed tasks that have an effect on patient safety. A heavy workload may also contribute to stress, lower motivation and more medical errors. Having a well-staffed hospital gives nurses more time to dedicate to patients and provide quality care.

3. Use checklists during surgeries and other procedures. Checklists give doctors and nurses an opportunity to stop and consider their actions before continuing to the next step, the World Health Organization says. Checklists help ensure that nothing has been accidentally neglected.

4. Avoid using abbreviations for medications or procedures. Miscommunication often leads to errors. One way to reduce misunderstanding is to do away with ambiguous medical abbreviations and symbols. Organizations such as the Institute for Safe Medication Practice and The Joint Commission both support limiting the use of abbreviations and acronyms to improve patient safety.