Patient safety practices have been defined as those that reduce the risk of adverse events related to exposure to medical care across a range of diagnoses or conditions. This definition is solid, but quite incomplete, because so many practices have not been well studied with respect to their effectiveness in preventing harm. However, the one fact we understand is the direct relationship between quality improvement practices and patient safety.
This week, our healthcare professionals are celebrating Patient Safety Awareness week. This is an annual opportunity to bring together healthcare professionals and patients in an effort to provide the highest quality and safest delivery of healthcare possible. Healthcare professionals are very familiar with the alarming and frequently cited statistics from the Institute of Medicine. Medical errors result in the death of between 44,000 and 98,000 patients every year. These numbers remind us that quality improvement and patient safety efforts must continue to be foremost in their daily practices.
Healthcare institutions and professionals are exploring innovative approaches and methods that reduce preventable medical errors, improve patient care and safety and decrease healthcare costs. Increasingly, healthcare institutions are implementing lean operational principles and practices pioneered at Toyota and other industrial companies. Lean is a cultural transformation that changes how an organization works. No one stays on the sidelines in the quest to discover how to improve the daily work. It requires new habits, new skills, and often a new attitude throughout the organization from senior management to frontline service providers.
Lean is a journey, not a destination. Clinical and nonclinical staff members who are given the encouragement, training, and time to make meaningful improvements in how the work is done are unlikely to want to retreat to an earlier period when formalized efforts to improve existing processes were outside their control. When staff members gain confidence in their problem solving skills and they see positive changes, momentum for even more improvement will build.
By applying lean methodologies to existing systems and procedures, major healthcare institutions are achieving significant improvements in patient safety while also reducing costs.