Tag Archives: catalyst for payment reform

A Hospital That Leads World on Transparency

Jeremy Hunt, secretary of state for health in Britain, recently toured the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. He said the visit was “inspirational” and announced plans to have the British National Health Service (NHS) sign up “heart and soul” to a similar culture of safety and transparency. Hunt wants doctors and nurses in NHS to “say sorry” for mistakes and improve openness among hospitals in disclosing safety events.

I had a similar reaction to my tour of Virginia Mason. The hospital appears impressive—and truly gets impressive results. My nonprofit, the Leapfrog Group, annually takes a cold, hard look at the hospital’s data and named Virginia Mason one of two “top hospitals of the decade” in 2010. Every year, it ranks near the top of our national ratings.

Virginia Mason’s success is rooted in its famous application of the principles of Japanese manufacturing to disrupt how it delivered care, partly at the behest of one of Seattle’s flagship employers, Boeing. There are numerous media stories and a book recounting the culture of innovation Virginia Mason deployed to achieve its great results, so I won’t belabor the point here. But at its essence is Virginia Mason’s unusual approach to transparency. Employees are encouraged to “stop the line” – that is, report when there’s a near miss or error. Just as Toyota assembly workers are encouraged to stop production if they spot an engineering or safety problem, Virginia Mason looks for every opportunity to publicly disclose and closely track performance.

It is not normal for a hospital to clamor for such transparency. Exhibit A: the Leapfrog Hospital Survey, my organization’s free, voluntary national survey that publicly reports performance by hospital on a variety of quality and safety indicators. More than half of U.S. hospitals refuse the invitation of their regional business community to participate in Leapfrog, suggesting that transparency isn’t at the top of their agenda. But for Virginia Mason and an elite group of other hospital systems, not only is the transparency of Leapfrog a welcome feature, but they challenge us to report even more data, faster.

I hope the British health care system takes Virginia Mason’s model and runs with it, but, more than that, I hope the model takes hold here in the U.S. Too many hospitals in the U.S. avoid disclosing their performance instead of welcoming transparency as an opportunity to build trust with the patients in their care.

The movement toward transparency has a long way to go. We do not have publicly disclosed accreditation reports, even though those reports are tickets for hospitals to obtain public funding through Medicare. We do not yet know enough about infection rates, sentinel events, medication errors and outcomes including death rates from many common (or uncommon) procedures. Price transparency is also rare, according to a report by the Catalyst for Payment Reform.

The ultimate example of our tendency toward non-disclosure came last week, when USA Today reported that CMS quietly removed from public disclosure the incidence of certain “never” events, like objects left in after surgery. Experts disagree on the merits of how CMS counts these “never” events, and CMS—no doubt influenced by lobbyists—believes that they aren’t fair to hospitals. Yet, in a culture of transparency, CMS would do the opposite: first err on the side of reporting the “never” events, then let the experts refine the measure over time. Indeed, as the Virginia Mason experience demonstrates, the very act of reporting can accelerate improvement and transformation.

It’s time for the U.S. to ignite its passion for free speech and lead the world in applying it to health care.

The Most Dangerous Place In The World

One Friday afternoon three years ago, Harvard Professor Ashish K. Jha found out his father had been taken to “one of the most dangerous places in the world.” Knowing as I do the energetic and courageous Professor Jha, I pictured a more senior version of him sky diving or climbing Mt. Katahdin. Unfortunately, the reality was far more banal, though still dangerous — Dr. Jha's father was taken to an American hospital.

The good news is Dr. Jha's father made a full recovery after only a few days in the hospital. The bad news: at least three potentially harmful errors occurred during those days. “On Saturday afternoon, he was given an infusion of a medicine intended for another patient — an infusion that was stopped only after I insisted that the nurse double-check the order,” recounts Dr. Jha. “After she realized the error, she tried to reassure me by saying, 'Don't worry, this happens all the time.'”

Indeed, Dr. Jha agrees this “happens all the time,” but it's not reassuring to him at all. In addition to being a concerned son, the professor is an expert in patient safety. He knew only too well the dangers his father faced — the legions of rampant errors, accidents and infections in hospitals throughout the United States.

The safety problem is an open secret among people in the health care industry. “When I tell this story, most of my colleagues shake their heads, but they are rarely surprised. We have come to expect such failures as a routine part of health care,” says Dr. Jha. The statistics are staggering. Each year, one in four people admitted to a hospital suffer some form of harm, and more than 500 patients per day die.

Dr. Jha has three recommendations. First, he calls for a better approach for tracking harm in the hospital. For a variety of reasons, this is not as easy as it should be.

Second, he says that hospitals need to feel the financial consequences of providing unsafe care. “A large proportion of hospitals have not adopted cheap and easy interventions that substantially reduce harm,” he points out.

Why is this? For one thing, the financial incentives aren't there. Most hospitals get paid for all the work they do, regardless of whether it helped or harmed the patient. The more they do, the more they make. There have been efforts to address this nonsensical financing system by paying hospitals for achieving the right outcomes for patients, including in the Affordable Care Act. But a recent study by Catalyst for Payment Reform found that only 11 percent of payments to hospitals or doctors are in any way dependent on good quality or safety.

Professor Jha's third recommendation is to create accountability for patient safety: “Senior health care leaders have to feel that their jobs depend on delivering safe care.” I would add another level of accountability implied but not stated in this recommendation: accountability to the American public. Hospital performance data should be publicly available to consumers, so we can choose doctors and hospitals with the best records. Hospitals that fail should lose market share. Last year, my organization, The Leapfrog Group, initiated one such effort, the Hospital Safety Score, a letter grade rating the safety of 2600 hospitals, which Dr. Jha advises us on. The Score is available to the public for free on our website or as an app, and it holds promise for driving a new market for safe care.

The Hospital Safety Score is useful to consult before you or your family members are admitted. But what should you do when you're already in the hospital and worried sick? Every hospital inpatient in America should navigate right now to this just-published AARP Magazine article and its virtual hospital room. The magazine noted features used in safer hospitals that all of us should look for in our own hospital. Among them:

  • readily available faucets with infrared lights that remind people entering the room to wash their hands when they see a patient;
  • IV poles, bed rails and faucets made with copper alloys, which prevents transmission of germs;
  • sensors that alert nurses when patients are attempting to get out of bed;
  • linen closets designed so staff can replenish supplies without having to enter the patient's room, which minimizes the spread of infection and disruption of the patient's rest.

The article also notes how safer hospitals use electronic systems for managing prescriptions — the best known way to prevent the kind of error Dr. Jha encountered during his father's hospital stay.

No doubt hospital leaders will read the AARP coverage without much surprise; all of this is well-known among clinicians and taught and studied throughout the health sciences. The premier textbook on patient safety advises most of what AARP found in its observations of excellent hospitals. Yet, too many hospitals still don't have the right precautions in place, and most consumers don't know to look for them. Until families make it clear to hospitals that safety matters to us, none of us, not even Harvard professors, can depend on safety when the ambulance arrives.

This article first appeared on Forbes.com.