Editor’s Notebook: The unTechnology Conference

May / June 2010
Editor’s Notebook

The unTechnology Conference

Many sports fans are familiar with the quip, “Last night I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out.” Well, in early May, I went to a technology conference, and a patient safety meeting broke out. I didn’t expect the conference to be run-of-the-mill; the unSummit, by its name, signals that it offers an alternative conference experience and claims to offer high-quality, practical advice. I was surprised, however, by the degree to which patient safety principles infused the entire program.

Each year since 2006, the unSummit has offered a multi-day program about bedside or “point-of-care” barcoding for clinicians, pharmacists, and IT professionals. Although familiar with the unSummit’s reputation for providing real-world, actionable, peer-to-peer education, I wondered how the organizers, Mark Neuenschwander and Jamie Kelly, would fill three days with sessions on barcoding alone without bogging down. They describe the unSummit (www.unsummit.com) as “Truly an unconventional convention, The unSUMMIT is designed to get you out of the clouds and into the weeds, where the union of technology and practice can be more easily realized through the shared expertise of your experienced colleagues.” Still, I wondered if the “weeds” might be impenetrable.

As promised, the program offered rich context for barcoding efforts as well as a wealth of advice from experts deeply experienced in clinical practice. Even better, the educational presentations and questions from the audience reflected 1) commitment to patient safety as the primary goal and 2) experience with the principles of human factors engineering, which improves an institution’s chances for implementation success and safety improvement. The “weediest” conversations I had were with Dennis Tribble, of Baxa Corporation.

Well-known as a technical expert, Tribble is the outgoing chair of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists section on Pharmacy Informatics and Technology, a charter member of the HIMSS Pharmacy Informatics Task Force, and a recognized patient safety expert. His column, “Building a Culture of Safety, begins on page 8. (Tribble gets extra credit for being the first to quote Shakespeare in these pages.)

Safety science was seamlessly woven into the unSummit’s program, which reminded me of discussions about the need for patient safety-related curricula in medical and nursing education. The Lucian Leape Institute at The National Patient Safety Foundation recently released a report on that topic, Unmet Needs: Teaching Physicians to Provide Safe Patient Care, which calls for teaching patient safety as a basic science, ensuring that faculty are proficient in the material, and for fostering “learning cultures that emphasize patient safety, model professionalism, encourage transparency, and enhance collaborative behavior” (www.npsf.org/LLI-Unmet-Needs-Report/). That ambitious agenda cannot be achieved with an occasional lecture delivered by an outside expert. Rather it will take weaving knowledge of safety science into all aspects of education and training. The program at the unSummit was an encouraging glimpse into how satisfying the final woven product can look and feel.

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