By Frank Sandusky, HCMBA, RRT
Is anyone trying to curb the rising cost of health care? Outside of the tangible costs such as employee salaries and benefits, expensive equipment, and physical plant maintenance, what does drive up health care costs?
The major contributor to rising health care costs is medical errors. Medical errors result in millions of injuries, which in turn result in longer hospital recovery times and billions of dollars annually in increased health care costs. This does not include costs associated with the patients’ loss of wages or productivity.
The Institute of Medicine has estimated that 98,000 hospital patients die every year as a direct result of medical errors. The number of medical errors is equal to six jumbo jet crashes every day. Additionally, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement has indicated that between the years of 2004 and 2006, 238,000 Medicare patients died due to preventable causes. Ten essential medical errors account for these errors:
Patients can “Speak Up”
This brings us back to the original question. Is anyone trying to curb the rising cost of health care? When it comes to preventing medical errors, the answer is yes. The Joint Commission, in cooperation with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, started the Speak Up™ initiative in 2002. This program endeavors to make the patient an active, involved, and informed participant in their own health care. The program urges patients to take a role in preventing medical errors by “speaking up” when they have concerns about their care. It’s easy, just think of this acronym:
A wealth of resources
As a part of the Speak Up program, The Joint Commission has developed a series of brochures and posters. Speak Up posters include:
• Universal Protocol
The program also offers brochures for patients receiving services in specific settings, including hospitals, ambulatory care, laboratory, long-term care, behavioral health care, and home care. A total of 18 brochures are available:
All of these resources can be downloaded for free from the Joint Commission website at www.jointcommission.org/speakup.aspx. The Joint Commission has also developed six animated Speak Up videos in English and Spanish that talk about how to reduce the risk of falling, helping kids speak up about their care, speaking up at the physician’s office, taking medication safety, and preventing the spread of infection. The videos are also available at the Joint Commission website.
Many hospitals have adopted the Speak Up program or incorporated it as part of their safety program. Over 2,500 hospitals have already used the Speak Up videos.
We can do more
The Speak Up initiatives certainly have the potential to improve patient safety in all health care areas. Many respiratory therapists have already adopted concepts like Time Outs, SBAR (Situation-Background-Assessment-Recommendation), Read Back, and Learn Back in an effort to improve patient safety. Additionally, some respiratory therapy departments have instructed their staff to be proactive by providing you with a list of your breathing medications that explains what the medications do, what time to expect the respiratory therapist, and what adverse effects you might experience.
Some RT departments have also taken a page from the airline pilots’ safety manual: They have developed a safety checklist. The respiratory therapist uses the checklist when you make the transition from critical care to patient care units or from the hospital to your home. These checklists are beneficial to patients being discharged.
It starts with you
About 42% of the U.S. population has directly experienced or been affected by a medical procedure or medication error. Eighty-four percent of the U.S. population has friends or family who have been victims of a medical error. You can be an active participant in medical error prevention by speaking up when you have concerns about your own medical care.
Frank Sandusky, HCMBA, RRT, is a long-time member of the American Association for Respiratory Care. He serves as manager of respiratory care services at the Fairview Hospital, a Cleveland Clinic hospital in Cleveland, OH.