This month’s Letter from America highlights approaches to addressing persistent patient safety challenges, such as overprescribing of opioids and staff burnout, through working with clinicians, staff and patients to enhance service delivery and care and opportunities to effectively engage communities. Letter from America is the latest in a Patient Safety Learning blog series highlighting fresh accomplishments in patient safety from the United States.
The US observance of ’Groundhog Day‘ is more than just the annual emergence of Punxsutawney Phil – the rodent soothsayer who ceremoniously predicts the timing of the arrival of Spring. It is the name of a popular film that represents how the repetition of unwanted experiences can contribute to scepticism, callousness and burnout for the primary character – weatherman Phil. However, he emerges from the darkness by applying what he learns over time to arrive at a new brighter day.
Patient safety leaders are apt to feel like weatherman Phil. Repetitiveness – the feeling that something been done over and over again without change – can decrease engagement but it can also lead to experiential knowledge that can be applied to future efforts.
Community engagement is paramount to patient safety success but it can be challenging if people feel like they wake to the same problem every day despite efforts to make a difference. The Boston-based Betsy Lehman Center has developed Including the Patient Voice: A Guide to Engaging the Public in Programmes and Policy Development. The Guide shares a six-element approach to involving members of the public as partners to reduce reoccurrence of poor care. Strategies focus on enabling community members to succeed as partners and contribute as experts to designing health services that are evidence based and accessible to all. This includes leadership-led mini-workshops for staff to inform their engagement programmes and patient correspondence reviews to identify the right consumers to invite as participants.
Similarly lessons have been shared by MedStar Health, a large regional healthcare system that sought to engage patients and design strategies that engage patients and families in safety improvement. Organisational structures such as Patient and Family Advisory Councils (PFAC) served as the focal point of the shared learning effort. The system developed a network of courses that shared best practices to foster innovation and sustain realised improvements in event reporting, disclosure (the CANDOR Toolkit), after-incident support and sepsis reduction. The tactics used include board and leadership activation activities, a mentorship programme for new community leaders and public awareness campaigns. For example, the system launched a collaborative to share information to improve early detection of sepsis. Patients who had contracted sepsis along with PFAC members and in-house quality experts were brought together to design an educational video to reduce sepsis that highlighted symptom identification and response. The programme contributed to marked sepsis treatment improvement.
The City of Philadelphia recently launched a prescription monitoring strategy to curtail the overprescribing of opioids in their region. Because this programme identifies by name the 10% of physician that overprescribe, these individuals can be offered targeted training and, if necessary, legal interventions to address their behaviour. Home-grown programmes can also be proactive to prevent overprescribing. One Boston-based family medicine clinic described their five-year change management effort to reduce opioid overuse. The authors reported their focus on developing “shared general principles”; communication mechanisms to connect clinicians with in-house addiction experts, patient registries, targeted training, certification opportunities and centralised leadership were all instrumental in embedding improved prescribing practices throughout the organisation.
Consistent unremitting workload pressure perpetuates stress and fatigue. Its presence degrades staff relations, performance and the safety of care delivery. It’s a common problem that medical residents are burnt out: no news there. What conveys great promise are programmes like what the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Kirkland Washington has done to address burnout by implementing workflow changes and fostering a culture of “collegiality, respect and innovation”. The Center changed workflow by standardising clinical tasks, defining staff roles and carving out protected time for staff to recharge, self-educate and participate in improvement efforts. The Center has enhanced its culture and improved staff morale through leadership efforts to lower hierarchy, welcome and respond to feedback, and address inefficiencies that can discourage staff and derail efforts. Ninety percent of staff at Kirkland reported in a 2018 internal survey feeling content and engaged about their work.
Medical residents can also find support through programmes like the ACGME Aware initiative. This set of tools targets strategies that junior doctors can use to build resilience and embrace their professional community through a mobile phone app to find support as they need it. Personal tactics to protect against burnout for more experienced healthcare professionals are also in demand. A news story in Medical Economics highlights what doctors and hospital administrators can do to minimise burnout, such as making time to socialise with peers and using the opportunity to share stories, rethinking their roles to bring joy back to medicine, and to listen.
For 2020, Phil has told us that Spring is due to arrive early. Will the application of the successes reviewed in this month’s Letter reduce the recurrence of opioid overprescribing and staff burntout? We need more than a rodent to speculate on that for us. But given efforts by patient safety champions in the US and UK, improvements optimism is in the air.
About the Author
Lorri Zipperer is the principal at Zipperer Project Management in Albuquerque, NM. Lorri was a founding staff member of the US-based National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF). She has been monitoring the published output of the patient safety movement since 1997. Lorri is an American Hospital Association/NPSF Patient Safety Leadership Fellowship alumnus and an Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) Cheers award winner. She develops content to engage multidisciplinary teams in creative thinking and innovation around knowledge sharing to support high quality, safe patient care.
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