New patient safety leader committed to reducing medical harm

By Jan Jarvis

Thomas Diller, MD

The youthful sailors who work aboard aircraft carriers fall into an age group that is not exactly known for reliability. And yet in a highly dangerous environment, these 18- to 21-year olds perform their work in a consistently safe and reliable fashion.

The reason: constant training and a culture that prioritizes safety, said Thomas Diller, MD, an internist, physician executive and the new Executive Director of UNT Health Science Center’s Institute for Patient Safety.

“Doing the right thing is hard-wired into them,” he said. “We haven’t done that in the health care system yet.”

In his new role, Dr. Diller hopes to do for health care what the Navy, airline industry and other organizations have done for their respective industries: create a culture of safety.

No one in health care wants to make medical errors, but they still happen, sometimes without the caregiver even knowing it, Dr. Diller said. 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.

Turning around those grim statistics requires a change in culture that leads people to do the right thing even when no one is watching.

“We can’t ask people to just work harder and smarter,” Dr. Diller said. “We have got to put them in an environment where they have all the tools they need in order to do the right thing.”

Dr. Diller fully understands the challenges and has a long history of focusing on safety in the health care industry. He brings more than 21 years of experience in improving health care quality and outcomes. As a board-certified internist, he has clinical experience in occupational, preventive and emergency medicine as well as expertise in medical management.

Most recently, he served as Vice President and System Chief Medical Officer for Irving-based Christus Health, a Catholic health care system with 30 hospitals in the United States and 13 in Latin America. Previously he served as Vice President of Quality and Patient Safety for Greenville Health System, a six-hospital system.

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Dr. Diller also has a background in business. He holds a master’s of medical management degree and is black belt trained in lean six sigma and change management.

“Dr. Diller is an accomplished clinician and physician executive with extensive experience and knowledge in patient safety, quality improvement and outcomes management,” said Michael R. Hicks, MD, Executive Vice President of Clinical Affairs.  “His expertise will be invaluable in our efforts to create a collaborative environment at the Institute that is committed to reducing medical errors and enhancing the well-being of the patient.”

The Institute for Patient Safety was founded earlier this year, thanks to $4 million in funding from Senator Jane Nelson and the Texas Legislature. As IPS Executive Director, Dr. Diller will be responsible for transforming the Institute into a resource to advance patient safety education on the campuses of IPS’ collaborating institutions, which include JPS Health Network, Cook Children’s Medical Center and Texas Christian University.

He also will lead efforts to develop meaningful resources and tools for clinicians and health systems and to advance the body of knowledge in the science and application of patient safety.

While the Institute will work broadly to improve all aspects of patient safety and health care quality, it will concentrate on ambulatory care settings, geriatrics care and precision medicine.

“The health care system does a very good job and we save a lot of lives,” Dr. Diller said. “But the system is provider-centric as opposed to patient-centric. My vision is to look at how we can transform health care and make it much safer for the patient.”

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