March 13-17 was Patient Safety Awareness Week, an annual time to inspire learning about healthcare safety. The National Patient Safety Foundation began the week-long celebration in 2002 to spark discussion on the subject. There has been a lot of progress in patient safety over the past 21 years, but deaths from preventable harm and medical errors are still far too high. The WHO estimates that globally four in 10 patients are harmed in primary and outpatient healthcare settings. Up to 80% of those incidents were preventable.
Ask Dr. Alina Alvarez, Regional Medical Director at CareMax, how important patient safety awareness is, and she won’t hesitate with her answer: “Patient safety is everyone’s job. Every team member is a patient safety officer.”
Before CareMax, Dr. Alvarez was Patient Safety Officer at HCA, a patient safety organization. At CareMax, safety had always been under the Quality Department, but Dr. Alvarez felt it required its own, separate committee. Certified in Patient Safety, she immediately saw the need for a focused initiative, where team members from various departments come together to promote patient safety. Chief Experience Officer Nicole Cable and Chief Compliance Officer Teresa McMeans had the same sentiment, so the three of them got together and formed the Patient Safety Committee.
“The goal was to create a culture where patient safety is always on the mind,” said Dr. Alvarez. “The committee is made up of representatives from across CareMax.”
The Patient Safety Committee’s goal is to create and foster a “just culture,” with balanced accountability.
“We want to make sure to focus on the system as a whole, leading to shared learning on any incidents or ‘almost errors/incidents,’” Dr. Alvarez explained. “This leads to more proactive engagement from our colleagues/staff/employees/visitors/patients – virtually everyone at CareMax when it comes to patient safety.”
The committee immediately realized the importance of changing the stigma around incident reporting. Whether it was true or not, team members previously felt reporting resulted in punitive measures, so they avoided it. That is changing.
“A team member should feel free to report an incident without fear of getting in trouble,” said Dr. Alvarez. “We want to give them that control.”
There is now an option for reporting to be anonymous, so team members can choose whether or not to give their name when reporting.
“The power belongs to the team members,” Dr. Alvarez continued. “We’re developing a patient safety culture where everyone has a patient safety mentality. There’s a wet spot on the floor? Instead of looking around for someone to clean it up, take action yourself. “
Another committee objective is being able to track incidents and learn more about them, so they can be avoided in the future.
“We need to know what incidents are happening, where they are happening, and what we are doing about each one,” said Dr. Alvarez. “This information helps show what changes and improvements have been or need to be made to reduce injuries. That way we can see where the problems are and work toward resolutions.”
“Now that we’ve started the conversation about patient safety, we are seeing more and more team members becoming aware of things around them and alert to any issues,” Dr. Alvarez continued.
And patient safety doesn’t always have to be negative.
“We want to hear the good stuff, too,” said Dr. Alvarez. “What did a team member do to prevent a disaster? That’s just as important, yet those things often go unrecognized. We want to celebrate those catches.”
The Patient Safety Committee has come a long way in its short existence, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Dr. Alvarez firmly believes the power to raise awareness and take care of issues belongs to CareMax team members.
“Patient safety is the responsibility of the whole company, “she said. “Everybody should have an ‘I’m a Patient Safety Officer’ badge.”