We can do all the right things to make a hospital safer, by complying with the safety requirements of the federal, state and local governments and the Joint Commission’s National Patient Safety Goals. But, then, human nature steps in, an employee doesn’t wash their hands. What’s vexing is that all those safety procedures that have been put into place now fall victim to a person’s old habits.
Patient safety cannot be a theoretical concept or goal. It can’t just be taught in a course. It needs to be part of the hospital’s culture and daily life. Looking further at the example of hand washing, study after study shows that improper hand hygiene contributes significantly to disease transmission. Every year hospitals have hand washing campaigns. The rates at most U.S. hospitals are shamefully low—at best, 50 percent or 60 percent compliance. This, despite the fact, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said for years that, “Hand washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection."
At New York Hospital Queens, our Patient Safety Committee, led by our chief medical officer Stephen Rimar, M.D., and more than 100 hospital managers, reviews our hospital-wide safety measures weekly— in one of the best ways possible—making rounds on patient floors. The team gets to see our safety protocols in action, this includes hand washing compliance.Safety Leadership WalkRounds™ is a concept that originated from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) that was conceived as a tool to help senior leaders connect with staff and signal to front-line workers a true commitment to creating a culture of safety. It truly works.
I believe that by visiting these areas regularly we have made a difference in both the staff’s views of patient safety as well as patients’ and families. No complaint is insignificant, simple or an isolated problem. I have witnessed the transition of a staff who were hesitant to speak up but are now are eager to share concerns, thoughtful observations and creative ideas for change and improvement.
If I had to sum up what I have learned from our rounds, it is that they are among one of the best ways to hear about patient safety concerns, observe our safety plan at work, and educate staff while visiting their areas. The staff learns by us and by our example. Bad habits are broken if we remain consistent and reinforce the correct way of doing things.
Stephen S. Mills, F.A.C.H.E.