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Improving Patient Safety Begins with Improved Patient Data

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A 2016 analysis by Johns Hopkins patient safety experts revealed that more than 250,000 deaths every year are attributable to medical error. Those are the worst-case scenarios. An Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality patient safety primer on "Adverse Events, Near Misses, and Errors" references studies that report 4.65 injuries to patients per 100 hospitalizations and that 10%–12% of patients experience harm while hospitalized, with approximately half of the events considered preventable.

A few key takeaways from these statistics: Patient safety must be an area of top priority for providers, and while it is not possible to guarantee safety, it is imperative that organizations strive to improve their performance to keep patients protected from medical errors as much as possible.

One area organizations should focus on to boost safety is patient data. When patient data is inaccurate, incomplete or not as comprehensive as possible, these can increase the likelihood of errors and harm. Follow these three steps to improve your organization's patient data collection efforts.


1. Cater to Patient Needs

The ways an organization communicates with patients can create significant barriers to capturing correct and complete patient data. The patients who come to your organization likely have different levels of education and literacy, speak different languages, follow different religious practices and may even have different perspectives on the U.S. healthcare system and value of receiving care.

It is imperative that organizations work to accommodate patient differences in all aspects of their operations, including data capture. For example, forms used to collect information from patients, whether paper or electronic (both should be an option), must be available in different languages, written at a 6th grade reading level and include simple, clear instructions. If patients have questions about the data you request, there should be an individual available who can speak with them in their preferred language.

When you encounter a challenge with collecting patient data, use the experience as a learning opportunity. Work to identify the cause of the obstacle and develop processes to effectively address it going forward.

2. Invest in Technologies

The need for improvements in patient safety have caught the attention of providers, lawmakers, device companies, advocacy groups as well as technology companies. Organizations can choose from a wide variety of technologies that can help them with patient data — not only the accuracy, but the type and quantity.

There are very large systems, such as EHRs, designed to capture a wide range and significant amount of data. Smaller systems, such as secure messaging, care transition and medication reconciliation platforms, are designed to fill a gap(s) in the data captured by a large system and/or serve as standalone platforms that address new needs or opportunities.

Whenever possible and appropriate, technologies should have the means to effectively communicate with one another. Transferring of information between systems can help reduce data entry errors and redundancy.

Vital to the proper use of these technologies is training. This is not only true for organization staff but also, if technologies are consumer facing, for patients as well. Organizations should not assume that technologies with components designed for consumer use will be easily understood by all patients.

Before rolling out a new technology, make sure you have the means to educate patients on proper use and answer related questions. Be ready with an alternative means to capture the data if patients would prefer not to use the technology. It is also worthwhile to be prepared with talking points on the value of using the preferred technology to get buy in from reluctant patients.

3. Focus on Engagement

The more you can involve patients in their own care, the more likely it is that the data you collect on them will be accurate and complete. While efforts to better automate operations can help streamline the delivery of care, these also have the potential to turn patients into spectators rather than active participants in their care.

Look for opportunities to promote patient involvement in the planning of their care. Educate patients on the data you capture on them and the importance of its accuracy in helping ensure safety and positive outcomes. Use resources such as The Joint Commission's "Speak Up" campaigns to encourage patients to ask questions about information in their medical records that could affect their safety, such as family history, medications and allergies. When reviewing information in medical charts with patients, make sure conversations involve frequent eye contact and feel more like discussions than a series of one-way questions.

Among the conclusions from a 2014 study conducted by researchers at NORC at the University of Chicago into the effectiveness of patient feedback in improving medical records accuracy: "…the data shows that patients are eager to provide feedback and the information they provide is likely to result in more accurate and up-to-date information." There will often be no better fact checker for your patient data than the patients themselves.

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