What are patient safety and quality of health care? For most of us, this question takes on personal meaning only when we need immediate services because of an illness or emergency. How do you begin to make a decision on what doctor to see and which hospital to choose? Most of us ask family members or friends for their experiences with a particular doctor or hospital. The reference is based on someone else's experience with the doctor or hospital.
This same principle applies to other measures of quality care. In addition to helping consumers evaluate quality of care, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) offers a bottom-line view: You should receive the right services or treatment at the right time by qualified clinical personnel. AHRQ further advocates that these services should be provided by clinical staff collaborating with you to understand options, make good choices for your care and carry out the correct plan.
Evaluating quality of care numbers
The federal government through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and many states including Illinois require hospitals to report information about services, patient care and patient satisfaction. Just like your family or friends, these agencies are providing you information about someone else's experience with a hospital or a service.
There are lots of numbers included in these reports, which you can use to compare hospitals. The difficulty is that numbers lined up with more numbers can be very confusing. We all know we should read the labels on food products to determine the nutritional value before we purchase or consume them. But which number on the label is the most important? Well, it depends. Should you be decreasing your intake of salt or sugar or fat or lactose? And the list goes on.
It's the same idea when comparing hospitals. There's a lot of information, but what does it all mean to you? Well, that depends on whether you need general heart services or a specific surgery, or something else entirely.
So why is the publicly available information about hospitals important or helpful to you? Through this data, you have access to information about the experiences of many patients, not just one or two of your friends or acquaintances.
The bottom line: How to use numbers to make a choice
Put simply, hospitals that have good scores for several things — such as taking care of patients having a heart attack, stroke or pneumonia or preventing infections — are institutions that pay attention to patients' needs. They are the hospitals most likely to be applying the most current treatments based on evidence of effectiveness. (This is often referred to as practicing "evidence-based medicine.")
Patient safety: What you should look for in a hospital
It would be easy to assume you are safe from harm while you are in a hospital. Unfortunately this is not always the case, which is why the Joint Commission and other national agencies insist that hospitals meet goals to improve safety when delivering care and services.
All accredited hospitals must demonstrate how they meet these national patient safety goals, so looking at a hospital's accreditations, such as by the Joint Commission, is another way to determine if the hospital is meeting patient safety standards, including the following:
- Improve the accuracy of patient identification
- Improve the effectiveness of communication among caregivers
- Improve the safety of using medications
- Reduce the risk of health care associated infections
- Reconcile medications across the continuum of care
- Reduce the risk of patient harm resulting from falls
- Identify safety risks inherent in the patient population
- Universal protocol for preventing wrong site, wrong patient, wrong procedures or surgery