October 6, 2010 | Mark Paradies

Is Patient Safety Taking a Back Seat to Healthcare Reform?

I continue to see sentinel event after sentinel event reported in the press. These are usually local articles. A single patient death doesn’t hit the national news.

However, healthcare reform has been in the headlines all year long. What is it going to be? Will it pass? What is in it? Will it be repealed? Story after story…

That got me thinking … Has healthcare reform caused patient safety to take the back seat?

First, in a cost cutting environment, new initiative (like patient safety) usually get cut. After all, how can we spend money on a new program when we don’t have enough money for current programs.

Second, new equipment for new type of surgery that produces revenue and puts one hospital ahead of another seems much more likely to get funding that patient safety (which, I’ve heard people say, is just people being careful).

Third, no government mandate has made patient safety an overriding priority. After all, if patient safety was more important than healthcare reform, wouldnt they have passed a patient safety law first?

Finally, hospitals and healthcare providers have become accustom to the current patient safety environment and have provided for the risk of malpractice suits by obtaining insurance. But you can’t buy insurance for changes in healthcare reimbursement rates due to new laws. So medical administrators tend to pay more attention to the risk they can’t control rather than the one that they have become accustom to and have insured against.

This shift in focus is a sad state of affairs.

If you look at the money being spent on insurance (insuring doing things wrong) and the amount of money spent treating people for sentinel events, hospital acquired infections, and misadministration of drugs, the sum is truly amazing. An article from last summer put the cost of the aditional treatment due to medical mistakes at $17 billion per year. And that’s just the cost in the US. Accident rates and costs are similar around the world (there is no error free healthcare system).

So what needs to be done?

First, each healthcare facility has the moral obligation to improve patient safety. They should be looking for every opportunity to implement advanced improvement techniques. These can be learned from other healthcare providers but, more often than not, come from outside the healthcare industry.

Where should they be looking outside the healthcare industry? The nuclear industry, commercial aviation, oil and petrochemical, the military, mining, and  high tech manufacturing are just a few of the possibilities. These industries have had to find ways to improve human and equipment reliability or they would go out of business (either because of cost or regulatory action).

But where could a healthcare provider meet with leaders from these industries from around the world? The only place I know of is the TapRooT® Summit in San Antonio, TX. But that is only three weeks away. You will have to hurry if you believe that patient safety is really a top priority and your facility needs to do as much as possible.

For the complete TapRooT® Summit schedule, including the Healthcare Quality, Patient Safety, Sentinel Event Track, see:


Click on the buttons on the right to see the topics in each track. When you sign up for the Summit you can customize your sessions to make your experience target the biggest problems at your facility.

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