New Institute for Patient Safety focused on making health care safer in Texas

By Jeff Carlton

 

A collaborative institute launching Tuesday at UNT Health Science Center will focus on patient safety problems and preventable medical errors, crises that contribute to 251,000 deaths annually in the United States.

The Health Science Center’s new Institute for Patient Safety will take a lead role in professional and community education, research and quality improvement projects aimed at reducing medical errors and assuring Texans receive the highest quality of health care. Medical errors are the nation’s third-leading cause of death behind only cancer and cardiovascular disease, and affect 9,000 people in North Texas each year.

Founding members of the institute include Texas Christian University, JPS Health Network and Cook Children’s Medical Center. This collaboration reflects a community-wide effort combining expertise from the fields of medicine, science, engineering, public health, nursing and patient experience to tackle safety issues that lead to an estimated $50 billion annually in direct health care costs in the United States.

“The number of annual deaths due to patient safety is equivalent to two to three 747s crashing every day,” said Michael R. Hicks, M.D., Executive Vice President for Clinical Affairs. “We’ve created a forum for discourse and a framework for discovery that will make our hospitals and health clinics a safer place for everyone.”

Senator Jane Nelson, who helped secure $4 million in funding from the Texas Legislature, said she envisions the institute collaborating with other health care and education partners in Texas to improve quality and reduce preventable harm.

“The goal is that the institute will impact the lives of every patient in Texas by creating a universal culture of safety throughout our state,” Senator Nelson said.

While the institute will work broadly to improve all aspects of patient safety and health care quality, it will concentrate on three areas. They are:

  • Ambulatory care settings, where there are few standardized protocols for safety efforts as basic as hand washing.
  • Geriatrics care, where, for example, a focus on preventing falls and broken hips – or improving the flow of information from hospitals to rehab centers to nursing homes – could significantly enhance patient safety.
  • Precision medication, as adverse drug events affect nearly 5 percent of hospitalized patients every year. Likely topics include drug dependence, appropriate use of antibiotics and medication side effects.

“This focus on ambulatory care, geriatrics and medication safety reflects the highest priority needs of North Texas – and the core strengths of UNT Health Science Center,” Dr. Hicks said.

Organizations that participate in academic research, higher education or the direct delivery of care will be considered for full membership in the institute.  The institute also will include fellows who contribute through research, quality improvement projects, mentoring of students and faculty and ensuring the institute becomes a national resource for professionals interested in patient safety issues.

The inaugural roster of fellows includes scientists and physicians from UNTHSC, TCU, JPS, Cook Children’s and University of Texas at Arlington. Fellows will work with the university’s faculty to ensure patient safety remains a key component in the curriculums of the Health Science Center’s existing graduate programs and in the new M.D. school being created in collaboration with TCU – ensuring enhanced care from the next generation of health care providers.

Some of the state’s appropriation will fund small-scale testing of innovative new patient safety concepts through four annual seed grants worth up to $25,000 apiece. The institute also will award larger project grants, worth up to $100,000 each, for studies that can have an immediate impact on health care.

The institute’s most visible initiative to date is an annual Patient Safety Summit in Fort Worth, which last year convened experts from the Veterans Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization. The keynote speaker was Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School. This year’s summit is scheduled for October 27-28.

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