January 5, 2021By Lance Baily

Patient Safety Improvements Could Help Save Hospitals Millions of Dollars

The demand for virtual and remote healthcare simulation alternatives to in-classroom learning has greatly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. As clinical simulation labs had to close their doors or implement social distancing safety protocols, remote simulation provided a means for education and training to continue without the risk of contracting the virus. While an American Hospital Association report found that immense financial strain continues to face hospitals and health systems due to COVID-19, there is hope that by improving patient safety through healthcare simulation this loss can be offset.

As stated by a recent MedCity News article, enhancing patient safety can lead to fewer costly events, such as hospital-acquired infections, conditions, injuries, readmissions and return visits to the emergency department. Improved patient safety measures can also help identify faster and more proactive identification of cost-saving opportunities (like IV to PO conversions and optimal high-cost drug management). Further, notable patient safety measures can foster higher patient volumes through ensuring a strong quality and safety reputation across the community.

Having a strong patient safety reputation is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic because patients may fear becoming infected with the virus during a visit to the hospital, opting instead to decline treatment. Affirming this, a Deloitte’s 2015 Survey of US healthcare Consumers found that one of every two individuals surveyed noted that brand and reputation were an important consideration in choosing a hospital.

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To harness such a strong reputation, hospitals can rely on clinical surveillance, a process that pulls information from electronic health records to sort and analyze patient safety data and opportunities. Using clinical surveillance, many hospital leaders have found improving patient safety as a sure way to improve their ROI. Specific ways to gain revenue by increasing patient safety stem from identifying and managing safety events, identifying medication errors, identifying opportunities to improve antibiotic use and to ensure the safe prescription of opioids.

MedCity News shared that an assessment that was based on metrics and reports from peer-reviewed studies, journals, government databases, and other sources, was able to quantify the impact of increased patient safety in hospitals. For example, one customized report from a small hospital with 50 staffed beds, 3,100 annual admissions, an average daily census of 40, and a bed utilization rate of 44%, showed that the facility could experience $1,290,876 annually in savings by boosting patient safety. The report explains that these cost benefits are driven by:

  • $64,843 in cost savings (the reduction in costs to the hospital).
  • $1,089,046 in cost avoidance (the value of safety-related events and errors that would be potentially avoided or reduced).
  • $145,987 in returned resources (the value of time saved by transitioning from manual to automated processes).

Patient safety accountability undoubtedly has an impact on inpatient admissions, the number of staffed beds, the daily census and other hospital-related factors. By implementing clinical surveillance and acting on these suggested safety measures, hospitals have the potential to improve margins and save millions of dollars.

Ways to Improve Patient Safety

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Healthcare simulation education and training can act as an integral part of any patient safety push. By providing clinical simulation training to learners and professionals, health systems are able to help establish that they are ready to enter the field and interact with real-life patients. Along with helping to ready learners for what they may encounter in a clinical environment, added healthcare simulation training provides them with a level of confidence necessary to practice with certainty.

In terms of hospital changes to pave the way toward more comprehensive patient safety protocols, a systems approach should be included to identify and accept that practitioners are human and will on occasion make errors. One way to help ensure the improvement of patient safety protocols within a hospital or other institution is to establish a series of checks and warnings that will prevent the error from progressing and causing harm to a patient.

An example of how some hospitals work to reduce medical error involves central lines (intravenous access to major blood vessels) being a common source of infection. Understanding this risk, many hospitals have created check-off sheets based on current best practices, which all staff members must follow. This introduction of check-off sheets and additional training has significantly reduced the incidence of central line infections in hospitals that follow these guidelines.

The use of barcode scanning for medication administration can also have significant impacts when attempting to reduce medication administration error. Many hospitals lack in-house barcode scanning technology, and therefore, they cannot rely on the technology to assist them with daily needs. However, securing and implementing barcode scanning further creates checks or blocks to prevent providers from selecting an incorrect medication or tool, which can result in patient harm.

Openly reporting errors is another way to improve patient safety. When an error or near-error occurs, these must be reported and investigated by a facility. Currently, a change in culture is occurring where staff members are encouraged to report near misses and errors, rather than hide them, so that systematic changes can be implemented to prevent those same errors from happening again.

Electronic health records have made this increasingly possible by extending to providers and administrators the ability to track where errors or near misses occur. Then, they can personally help identify what changes to the system need to be made. They can also choose to mandate additional staff training that could help prevent these critical mistakes.

Additionally, many hospitals are adopting zero-harm policies. These policies create protocols in which errors are no longer listed as specific actions but rather identify the number of times patients were treated safely. Healthcare facilities are using these policies to try to essentially put a human face on the error so that the error becomes more meaningful to the staff. To achieve this, departments must be able to track their own infection rates or fall rates. All members of the hospital staff are then held responsible for patient safety (including non-medical staff).

As cultures of safety grow within hospitals, every patient must be treated safely with zero-harm results. Today, many organizations are working to promote patient safety through education, training and action. These organizations include the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, the Joint Commission, Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Patient Safety Network (PSNet).

The International Society for Quality in Health Care (ISQUA) is another organization that has been working to improve the quality and safety of health care worldwide for over 30 years. ISQUA’s extensive network of health care professionals spans over 70 countries and 6 continents all of whom share the goal of improving patient safety through education, knowledge sharing, external evaluation, supporting health systems worldwide and connecting like-minded people through their health care networks. Each year, the organization hosts an international patient safety conference to further promote health care quality and safety improvement.

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