Patient Safety

Tugging on Superman’s Cape

Several years ago, I spoke at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, where Michael DeBakey, the legendary heart surgeon, was master of the universe for nearly half a century. I heard lots of DeBakey stories during my visit, but one in particular really stuck with me. “A few years back,” someone told me in a voice of hushed reverence usually reserved for descriptions of flawless beach days and single malt scotch, “he performed 16 open heart operations in a single day.” This was clearly intended to impress, but all I could think was, “Boy, I wouldn’t want to be patient #16.”Lacking any information to help us understand when fatigue trumps even legendary prowess, such monumental tales of endurance can take on Man of Steel proportions. But a recent study in the Journal of the American College of Radiology may be the start of efforts to trim Superman’s cape.Researchers from the…

“I Like (Political) Science and I Want to Help People”

I thought I was an oddball in college. I've only recently learned that I was avant-garde.Right before beginning college in 1975, I decided I wanted to be a doctor. Being the first-born son – with decent SATs – of an upwardly mobile Long Island Jewish family, I had relatively little choice in the matter. Notwithstanding this predestiny, I felt confident that medicine was a good fit for my interests and skills. But on my med school interviews four years later, I stumbled when the time came to answer the ubiquitous, “Why do you want to be a doctor?” question. The correct (but hackneyed) response, of course, is “I like science and I want to help people.” You’ll be comforted to know that I had no problem with the helping people part. It was the science thing that threw me for a loop.It wasn’t that I didn’t like science, mind you.…

Berwick, Pronovost, and the Non-Scalability of Charisma

Early on, many social movements depend on a charismatic leader to focus attention, build a burning platform, and inspire people to action. You know when the movement has made it when it no longer needs such a leader for fuel.The safety and quality movements have picked up tremendous steam over the past decade, but they haven’t yet hit that self-sustaining tipping point. Last week, there were two things that reminded me of this: the announcement of a new leader of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), and a doleful JAMA essay by Peter Pronovost.During the circus that was Don Berwick’s recess appointment to lead the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), all eyes were trained Inside the Beltway. But 440 miles north, in Cambridge, MA, arguably the most important organization in the quality and safety galaxy needed to get on with its business. On July 8th, IHI announced its…

Today’s Big ACGME and Joint Commission Announcements: The Courage To – and Not To – Change

One of the mantras of performance improvement is that caregivers and provider organizations should learn from their experiences. That’s all well and good, but how about policy-setting organizations?A few moments ago in the on-line version of the New England Journal of Medicine, two of the Biggest Kahunas in the safety and quality worlds – the Joint Commission (TJC) and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) – announced bold new policies. To their credit, both organizations have learned from their experiences… and their mistakes.Let's start with the Joint Commission. In a gutsy move, three TJC leaders (led by CEO Mark Chassin) call for raising the bar on measures whose purpose is public accountability (i.e., measures used for pay for performance or public reporting programs). Mark was nice enough to invite me to co-author the manuscript, and I was proud to do so. I think it’s an important statement.We begin…

The New Joint Commission: Much Improved, With Room for More

Until about 8 years ago, inspections by the Joint Commission (TJC) were predictable and fairly silly. Hospitals were given a couple of years' notice of the week that “The Joint” would be visiting. Everybody scurried around preparing – waxing the floors, locking up all the medications, that sort of thing. (It always struck me as the most dangerous day to be in the hospital, since nobody could find any of the medications, and the floors were slippery as hell). After arriving, the inspectors spent most of their time sealed in a conference room, pouring through policy manuals (we dusted them off before the visit) and meeting with administrators, exposed to whatever reality the hospital wanted them to see. It was an ineffectual kabuki dance.Last week, the Joint Commission visited UCSF Medical Center. Luckily, our director of regulatory affairs, Jolene Carnagey, is tasked with checking the TJC website every Monday at…
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