Safety Is a Top Priority for Hospitals, Yet Many Report Safety Gaps

By Stacy Pur

Safety is a top priority for hospital leaders, yet many feel that their organization could make significant safety improvements. That’s according to a survey of 123 hospital chief medical officers, chief nursing officers, chief quality officers, and other C-suite leaders conducted by Sage Growth Partners, a healthcare consulting firm.

The survey, conducted from July to August 2019, found that improving patient safety is among hospital leaders’ top three priorities over the next two years. Yet the survey also found that only 20% of hospital executives said their organization is a “safety innovator,” meaning it has the resources committed to provide state-of-the-art patient safety management. A majority of respondents (62%) said their hospital is “safety mature,” meaning it has implemented a reasonable degree of safety initiatives but still has gaps and limitations. The final 18% of respondents said their hospital is “safety ready,” meaning it is prepared to implement a safety program or safety initiatives but has not yet begun implementation.

The prioritization of patient safety as a top three initiative is encouraging. However, half of survey respondents said they are only slightly satisfied with their approach to safety event reporting—the reporting and documenting of incidents in which a patient, staff, or visitor is harmed or could have been harmed (such as through a fall or medication error). Such reporting is critical to ensuring hospitals have the tools and data required to continually improve safety. When hospitals lack a strong event reporting infrastructure, they lack visibility into the types of events that occur, precluding them from knowing where or how to best allocate resources to prevent future problems.

Smarter systems needed

Adverse patient safety events cost the U.S. and European healthcare systems nearly $318 billion in 2016, according to Frost & Sullivan. By 2022, that amount could increase to more than $380 billion. In an effort to rein in costs, CMS and private payers are hitting hospitals with reimbursement cuts associated with poor patient safety and quality. In 2019, more than 800 hospitals incurred payment penalties from CMS for high rates of infections and patient injuries.

As more hospitals acknowledge the need for improved safety programs and event reporting, more are allocating resources to it. In fact, nearly 25% of respondents to the Sage Growth Partners survey said their budget for safety event reporting will increase in 2020.

For those hospitals seeking to improve safety event reporting, implementing an effective third-party solution (rather than using a homegrown solution or a combination of paper and spreadsheet tracking) can provide significant operational efficiencies. Survey respondents who said they use a third-party system were more likely than other respondents to characterize themselves as “safety innovators” (23% vs. 12%) and were more likely to say they are extremely satisfied with their event reporting approach (26% vs. 18%).

Survey respondents indicated that their preferred third-party solutions facilitate care across the healthcare continuum by supporting patient, visitor, employee, security, housing, and other event types. They also offer automatic event detection to supplement human reporting, and provide form auto-population, ongoing data monitoring, and analytics related to trends and performance. These capabilities reduce the staff burden associated with event reporting, help hospitals identify safety problems sooner, and lead to more effective interventions.

What hospitals should look for

As with all new technology, ease of use plays a huge role in the effectiveness of a safety event reporting system. This is underscored by the survey findings. Among survey respondents who said they plan to invest in a new reporting system in the next one to two years, primary reasons cited were:

  • Limited analytics and reporting capabilities
  • Nonintuitive workflow
  • Limited customization
  • Lack of enterprise supportHospitals should look for third-party solutions that leverage the robust data in the electronic medical record to automatically identify safety events staff may have failed to report. The solution should also be readily accessible on any device used by staff, and provide form auto-population, reporter feedback, support for cause mapping and serious event analysis, and comprehensive facility and enterprise analytics.

Finally, hospitals should seek tools that can be easily customized to capture safety events that are most relevant to their patient population, and that integrate or are bundled with their other clinical decision support technology. For example, if an infection preventionist sends a hospital-acquired infection report to the National Healthcare Safety Network, a good safety event reporting platform should automatically capture the information and document it as a safety event, eliminating the need for manual documentation.

A robust safety event reporting solution can be a game-changer for hospitals. It can help rein in healthcare costs, reduce the burden on staff, and foster a stronger culture of safety. Most importantly, it can help save patients’ lives. For hospitals that identify gaps in their patient safety programs, a more efficient safety event reporting system can make the difference.

Stacy Pur is vice president of product development at VigiLanz, where she is responsible for driving the clinical surveillance provider’s strategic technology vision, new product development, feature enhancements, and operational efficiencies. She has presented nationally and published research in the areas of outbreaks, antibiotic resistance, biopreparedness, and infection control.