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Armstrong N, Brewster L, Tarrant C, et al. Soc Sci Med. 2018;198:157-164.
Measuring patient safety is critical to improvement. This ethnographic study examined the implementation of a patient safety measurement program in the United Kingdom, the NHS Safety Thermometer, which measured incidence of pressure ulcers, harm from falls, catheter-associated urinary tract infection, and venous thromboembolism, with the goal of informing local improvement efforts. Investigators sought to examine how the measurement program was perceived by frontline staff. Despite the explicit emphasis on using the data for improvement, it was viewed as an external reporting requirement. The program was also viewed as a basis to compare organizations, especially because it included pay-for-performance incentives. The authors suggest that the intention of the program did not match the real-world considerations of participating health care systems and had the unintended consequence of creating potential for blame.
Howe JL, Adams KT, Hettinger Z, et al. JAMA. 2018;319:1276-1278.
As electronic health records (EHRs) have become ubiquitous, our understanding of their benefits and potential harms has evolved. In particular, issues with EHR usability (the ease of understanding, learning, and using the interface) impair physician workflow and may result in harm to patients. In this study, investigators analyzed voluntary error reports from the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority and a multihospital academic health system for evidence of safety issues related to EHR usability. Although limited by the nature of the voluntary reports, which contained sparse details precluding assessment of causal factors, investigators did identify and categorize cases in which problems with EHR usability may have directly resulted in patient harm. Many EHR contracts with health care organizations include "hold harmless" clauses limiting the EHR vendors' legal liability, meaning that patients may not be able to seek compensation if EHR issues directly lead to harm. A WebM&M commentary discussed a case of contrast nephropathy arising in part due to a confusing EHR user interface.
Rhee C, Dantes R, Epstein L, et al. JAMA. 2017;318:1241-1249.
Early identification of sepsis is essential for initiating appropriate treatment and preventing mortality. In this retrospective study, researchers used clinical data to estimate the incidence of sepsis over time at 409 academic, community, and federal hospitals over a 6-year period. They found that the incidence of sepsis remained stable during this time. Although inpatient mortality due to sepsis declined somewhat, there was no change in the combined outcome of death or discharge to hospice. In contrast, analysis of claims-based data suggests a significant increase in the incidence of sepsis over time as well as a marked decrease in sepsis mortality and death or discharge to hospice. The authors conclude that analysis of clinical data may provide a better understanding of sepsis trends. The accompanying editorial highlights challenges associated with measuring the sepsis incidence and mortality.
Barker AL, Morello RT, Wolfe R, et al. BMJ. 2016;352:h6781.
Falls in hospitalized patients are a common source of preventable harm, and the incident is considered a never event when it results in serious injury. Conducted at six Australian hospitals, this cluster randomized controlled trial sought to evaluate the effectiveness of a bundled intervention on the incidence of falls on adult wards. The bundle included assessing patients' risk for falling along with several widely used tactics to prevent falls. Despite successful implementation of the fall prevention bundle, falls occurred just as frequently on intervention wards as control wards. This study is an important example of the need to rigorously evaluate safety interventions, even those that have high face validity. The authors conclude that since these interventions appear ineffective. Organizations should consider disinvestment in these practices because completing ineffective interventions consumes a significant amount of staff time and effort. A WebM&M commentary discussed a case involving a fall resulting in injury.
Saint S, Greene T, Krein SL, et al. New Engl J Med. 2016;374:2111-2119.
The landmark Keystone ICU study, which achieved remarkable sustained reductions in central line–associated bloodstream infections in intensive care unit (ICU) patients, stands as one of the most prominent successes of the patient safety field. Although the use of a checklist gathered the most publicity, the study's key insight was that preventing health care–associated infections (HAIs) required extensive attention to improving safety culture by addressing the socioadaptive factors within hospitals that contributed to HAIs. In this new AHRQ funded national study, the Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program was implemented at 603 hospitals in 32 states, with the goal of preventing catheter-associated urinary tract infections in ICU and ward patients. The effort involved socioadaptive interventions (various approaches shown to improve safety culture) and technical interventions (targeted training to reduce usage of indwelling urinary catheters and providing regular data feedback to participating units). Catheter usage and infection rates significantly decreased in ward patients, although no change was found in ICU patients. This study thus represents one of the few safety interventions that has achieved a sustainable improvement in a clinical outcome. An earlier article described the implementation of the program, which involved collaboration between state and national agencies and academic centers. In a 2008 PSNet interview, the study's lead author discussed his work on preventing HAIs.
Winters BD, Bharmal A, Wilson RF, et al. Med Care. 2016;54:1105-1111.
The ability to use administrative data to measure patient safety is critical, because chart review is time-consuming and resource-intensive. The AHRQ Patient Safety Indicators (PSIs) and the CMS Hospital-acquired Conditions (HACs) aim to measure and track patient safety using administrative data. PSIs are often used for pay-for-performance, and CMS has a policy of nonpayment for hospitalizations associated with HACs. This systematic review found that PSIs and HACs have not been adequately validated compared to chart review and therefore may be subject to coding error. Establishing hospital quality or payment based on unvalidated metrics has consequences for patient safety efforts. These results suggest that unless further development and validation of administrative metrics occurs, widespread implementation of pay-for-performance efforts may not significantly improve patient safety.
Arefian H, Vogel M, Kwetkat A, et al. PLoS One. 2016;11:e0146381.
Health care–associated infections are a longstanding patient safety priority, and intensive multifaceted interventions have been shown to prevent them. This systematic review examined economic analyses of interventions to prevent hospital-acquired infections and found highly positive cost–benefit ratios. Although the authors raised concerns that quality of reporting in the identified studies was low, they concluded that preventing hospital-acquired infections is a cost-effective patient safety strategy. A PSNet perspective on the business case for patient safety discussed health care–associated infections.
Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; October 2015. AHRQ Publication No.16-0006-EF.
Hospital-acquired conditions (HACs), some of which are never events, have been an important focus of patient safety initiatives, with reporting requirements and Medicare nonpayment leading to significant efforts to prevent these conditions. This update to a prior report from AHRQ details and confirms the declining rates in HACs between 2010 and 2013. The analysis indicated that hospitalized patients experienced 1.3 million fewer HACs over the 3 years (2011–2013) than if the HAC rate had remained at the 2010 level. Consequently, the report estimates a $12 billion savings in health care costs and 50,000 fewer hospital patient deaths. These improvements coincided with nationwide efforts to reduce adverse events, such as the Partnership for Patients initiative and Medicare payment reform. The remaining burden of HACs suggests continued investment in this patient safety problem is needed.
Haut ER, Lau BD, Kraus PS, et al. JAMA Surg. 2015;150:912-5.
Prevention of hospital-acquired venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a strongly recommended patient safety practice. This retrospective review of hospital-acquired VTE at one tertiary care hospital found that many patients who developed VTE while hospitalized were prescribed appropriate prophylaxis but did not receive all of the prescribed doses. The authors point out that since current quality metrics measure only prescription of VTE prophylaxis and not actual administration, they may overestimate hospital performance on this safety issue. Moreover, nearly half of the patients with VTE had received prophylaxis that is currently considered optimal, an important finding since VTE is often referred to as a "preventable adverse event."
Hogan H, Zipfel R, Neuburger J, et al. BMJ. 2015;351:h3239.
Challenges in measuring hospital quality persist despite multiple public efforts. A commonly used measure of hospital quality is all-cause mortality. In this study, researchers examined whether two measures of the standardized mortality ratio, which represent differences from expected mortality, are associated with avoidable deaths, defined as those deaths linked to errors. Adjudicators found that less than 5% of deaths were avoidable, and that this proportion was not associated with hospitals' standardized mortality ratios. The authors conclude that the standardized mortality ratio is unlikely to reflect hospital quality, and argue for using condition-specific indicators focused on severe conditions with well-established care pathways. A previous AHRQ WebM&M interview explored the development of hospital standardized mortality ratios and their role in monitoring safety and quality.
Szymczak JE, Smathers S, Hoegg C, et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169:815-821.
Health care workers often work while sick. This phenomenon, known as "presenteeism," has been implicated in outbreaks of health care–associated infections and is associated with burnout. Researchers surveyed physicians and advanced practice clinicians at a children's hospital. This study found that most clinicians reported working while sick, consistent with a prior study of presenteeism among resident physicians. Cultural and system factors resulted in pressure to work while ill, including a sense of not wanting to let colleagues or patients down by being absent and lack of support systems to provide coverage for sick clinicians. The accompanying editorial acknowledges the stigma that clinicians face if they take sick leave and calls for organizations to develop transparent and equitable policies and systems to combat presenteeism.
Wen T, Attenello FJ, Wu B, et al. J Hosp Med. 2015;10:432-438.
Whether the "July effect"—a period of increased risks due to the introduction of new interns and residents at hospitals—is a real phenomenon or merely a myth has been long debated. Prior studies have largely been mixed, although a systematic review concluded that the weight of the evidence suggests increased mortality during this annual workforce transition. This retrospective cohort study used the AHRQ-maintained nationwide inpatient sample database to examine hospital-acquired conditions, which are considered to be never events. Of the nearly 145 million admissions recorded across 4 years, hospital-acquired conditions occurred in 4.7% of hospitalizations overall, while patients admitted in July had an incidence of 4.9%. July admissions were linked to a 6% increased likelihood of experiencing a hospital-acquired condition, with multivariate analysis corrections. Hospital-acquired conditions, which represent preventable complications, are likely a more sensitive marker for hospital quality and safety than mortality. A prior AHRQ WebM&M commentary explored the implications of the July effect through discussing a case of iatrogenic hypoglycemia (a never event) related to a new intern's lack of experience.
Chassin MR, Mayer C, Nether K. Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2015;41:4-12.
Although appropriate handwashing has been identified as an essential factor in preventing health care–associated infections, hand hygiene rates remain unacceptably low at many hospitals. This quality improvement project aimed to achieve adherence to hand hygiene practices at eight hospitals using change management methods drawn from human factors engineering. Each hospital investigated and identified specific causes of noncompliance with handwashing and developed specific interventions to address these barriers. These individualized efforts yielded a significant improvement in handwashing behavior. The authors argue that allowing each site to tailor the intervention to the specific causes of noncompliance led to the sustained improvements. This study suggests that local improvement may be a fruitful method to enhance the proven but incompletely implemented practice of hand hygiene. A recent AHRQ WebM&M interview and perspective discuss ways to enhance hand hygiene adherence.
Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; December 2014. AHRQ Publication No. 15-0011-EF.
This report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality provides estimates on hospital-acquired conditions (HACs)—including never events and health care–associated infections—for hospitals in the United States from 2010 to 2013. These adverse events continue to decline steadily, with an estimated 9% decrease in most recent year over year comparison. In 2013, there were 121 HACs for every 1000 hospital admissions. These improvements resulted in significant cost-savings and reduced morbidity and mortality rates. The authors attribute this change to CMS payment reform and to the Partnership for Patients initiative. Although uncertainty about the cause of these improvements remains, the lower HAC rate clearly demonstrates that efforts to reduce patient safety problems in hospitalized patients are yielding results. The substantial remaining burden of HACs argues for more investment in patient safety in hospital settings.
Dai H, Milkman KL, Hofmann DA, et al. J Appl Psychol. 2015;100:846-62.
This large observational study demonstrated that hand hygiene compliance rates decrease over the course of a normal work shift. During the first hour of work, average compliance rates were approximately 43%. This dropped to 35% for the last hour of a 12-hour shift. In addition, more intense work shifts were associated with even bigger hand hygiene compliance drop-offs. The authors extrapolate these results to estimate that this compliance decrement could produce an additional 600,000 infections per year in the United States, resulting in up to 35,000 unnecessary deaths and $12.5 billion in excess costs. More time off between shifts led to better compliance rates during a subsequent shift. In this sample, 65% of the caregivers were nurses, and only 4% were physicians. Longer nursing shifts have previously been linked to other patient safety hazards. A prior AHRQ WebM&M commentary discussed challenges related to nursing staffing.
Srigley JA, Furness CD, Baker R, et al. BMJ Qual Saf. 2014;23:974-980.
Hand hygiene is a core practice for decreasing health care–associated infections, but achieving compliance has proven difficult. In this study, hand hygiene rates were about threefold higher when an auditor was present compared with hallway dispensers that were not visible by a direct observer. Since many publicly reported hand hygiene rates are based on direct auditor observations, this study suggests these metrics may be greatly inflated and unreliable. A prior WebM&M perspective reviewed recent strategies for promoting and monitoring hand hygiene.
Fridkin S, Baggs J, Fagan R, et al. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2014;63:194-200.
Antibiotics are among the most remarkable life-saving advances of modern medicine. However, when used incorrectly these medications pose serious risks for patients due to adverse effects and the potential to cause complicated infections, including those resistant to multiple antibiotics. This national database study found that more than half of all patients discharged from a hospital in 2010 received antibiotics during their stay. Many of these antibiotics were deemed to be unnecessary, and there was wide variation seen in antibiotic usage across hospital wards. A model accounting for both direct and indirect effects of antibiotics predicted that decreasing hospitalized patients' exposure to broad-spectrum antibiotics by 30% would lead to a 26% reduction in Clostridium difficile infection. The CDC recommends that all hospitals implement antibiotic stewardship programs, and this article provides core elements to guide these efforts. An AHRQ WebM&M commentary describes inappropriate antibiotic usage that resulted in a patient death. Dr. Alison Holmes spoke about infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship in a recent AHRQ WebM&M interview.
Concha OP, Gallego B, Hillman K, et al. BMJ Qual Saf. 2014;23:215-22.
Many studies have shown that patients admitted to the hospital on the weekend experience more preventable complications and are at increased risk for mortality. The mechanism for this finding is unknown and could be due to health care system factors (i.e., lower weekend staffing and availability of clinical services) or patient factors (i.e., those admitted on weekends could be more complex and at higher risk of death than weekday admissions). This population-based analysis from New South Wales, Australia sought to determine the contribution of health care system and patient factors to elevated weekend mortality by analyzing daily mortality rates for the 7-day period following weekend admission. For certain diagnoses, such as pulmonary embolism, the risk of death was elevated during the first 48 hours after weekend admission but declined thereafter, implying that health care system factors are the primary driver of the weekend effect. However, patients with cancer-related diagnoses continued to have elevated mortality risk for the full 7 days after weekend admission, implying that patient factors such as illness severity are the major contributor to excess mortality. Other diagnoses, such as stroke, showed a mixed pattern of system and patient factors. By providing a nuanced view of the types of diagnoses and factors associated with the weekend effect, this study demonstrates the need for tailored solutions for this well-documented problem.
Huang SS, Septimus E, Kleinman K, et al. N Engl J Med. 2013;368.
Healthcare associated infection is a leading cause of preventable illness and death. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a virulent, multi-drug resistant infection increasingly seen across healthcare settings. This pragmatic, cluster-randomized trial to determine the most effective approach for reducing the rates of MRSA was implemented in 43 hospitals, including 74 ICUs and 74,256 patients. Compared to baseline, modeled hazard ratios for MRSA clinical isolates were 0.92 for those undergoing screening isolations, 0.75 for targeted decolonization, and 0.63 for universal decolonization. Universal decolonization resulted in significantly greater reduction in blood stream infections than the other two studied approaches for infection reduction.
Lee GM, Kleinman K, Soumerai SB, et al. N Engl J Med. 2012;367:1428-37.
In 2008, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) eliminated reimbursement for certain preventable errors and hospital-acquired infections. This landmark policy aimed to align financial disincentives with adverse events, an increasingly utilized strategy. However, this AHRQ-funded study found that the "no pay for errors" policy had no measurable effect on rates of catheter–associated bloodstream infections and catheter–associated urinary tract infections in hospitals in the United States. No subgroup of hospitals or patients identified in this national evaluation seemed to clearly benefit from this policy change. The benefits and limitations of the CMS policy are discussed in an AHRQ WebM&M interview with Dr. Robert Wachter.