New Public Health Crisis: Preventable Harm in Health Care

Safety group issues call to action

Preventable harm in health care has become a public health crisis, with estimates placing it as a leading cause of death in the United States, according to a new report from the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF). The group is calling on health care leaders and policymakers to initiate a coordinated public health response that will ensure that patients and those who care for them are free from preventable harm. Such an approach has already led to significant reductions in health care-associated infections, the NPSF says.

Despite localized efforts to improve patient safety, the results have been limited and inconsistent, according to the group. Some health care organizations have implemented successful safety strategies, such as using checklists, medication barcoding, and revamped care transitions, but others haven’t introduced such interventions or replicated the results.

The NPSF’s “call to action” includes the following steps:

  • Create a national steering committee for patient safety to set national reduction goals and to define and establish a national action plan for the prevention of health care harm.
  • Encourage stakeholders––including health care organizations, the health care workforce, and insurers––to work collaboratively to implement the national action plan.
  • Actively engage patients in care (e.g., shared decision making, playing an active role in bedside rounding, removing limits on family visiting hours, and making available patient-activated rapid response teams) and in root-cause analyses.
  • Create a portfolio of national patient safety process and outcome metrics across the care continuum and retire invalid measures.
  • Develop and implement strategies to improve organizational culture based on existing practices and experience.
  • Ensure that funding for research on the prevention of health care harm is at a level comparable with research on other top health care issues––in contrast to fiscal year 2016, when the National Institutes of Health allocated $5.4 billion for cancer and only $0.9 billion for patient safety.
  • Create a Health IT Safety Center that can optimize technology and minimize unintended consequences.
  • Expand or develop resources that support the health care workforce, including initiatives to improve working conditions; establishing an environment of teamwork and respect; programs to support staff and improve resiliency; fatigue-management systems; and communications, apology, and resolution programs.

Source: NPSF; March 13, 2017.