Improving patient safety builds up from workforce

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The bottom line is patient safety errors are costing the United States about $1 trillion.
“We could have enormous improvement in outcomes,” said Paul O’Neill, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and patient safety advocate, who met with a group of North Mississippi Medical Center physicians on Thursday and is a speaker at the NMMC Annual Safety Summit today.
Wrong-site surgeries and medicine mix-ups are what grab headlines, but opportunities go much deeper, O’Neill said.
“It’s not just medical errors, it’s about everything,” said O’Neill, who is a board member of the National Patient Safety Foundation’s Lucian Leap Institute.
Too often, medical personnel have to spend their time on work that doesn’t add value, O’Neill said. When the Leap Institute worked with one hospital, they found nurses were constantly scrambling for 10 pieces of equipment that routinely had to be hunted down when they were needed.
They found supplies were unorganized because staff members had created personal stashes of supplies, O’Neill said. The staff worked to create systems so supplies were in a centralized location and the equipment was returned to a specific area, ready to go for the next time they needed it.
“In six months, they freed up the equipment of 11 full-time nurses,” O’Neill said.
Because North Mississippi Medical Center has been recognized with the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, O’Neill knows the organization has already done extensive evaluation and alignment of quality improvement processes and systems.
“This one here is different,” O’Neill said.
But every organization should have a commitment to continuous learning and improvement.
“We’re a high-performing hospital system,” said Lee Greer, chief quality officer for North Mississippi Health Services, who was one of the safety summit organizers. “Many of the things he speaks on are the things we’re trying to work on.”
Creating a culture where people are habitually excellent has to start from the top with a foundation grounded in safety and respect for the people who do the work, said O’Neill, who was a champion for workplace safety in his role chief executive at Alcoa before becoming treasury secretary in President George W. Bush’s first term.
“Nothing can happen without leadership,” O’Neill said. “I believe the most important role for leadership is to create a culture where every person in the organization can answer yes to three questions:”
• I am treated with dignity and respect without regard to gender, race, position, education by everybody, every day.
• I am given everything I need – training, education, tools, time – so I can make a contribution that gives meaning to my life.
• Someone I care about notices I did it.

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