Charles E. Murphy, MD, is board certified in general surgery, surgical critical care and thoracic and cardiac surgery. He is a former fellow of the American Hospital Association and National Patient Safety Foundation’s Patient Safety Leadership Fellowship program and is active nationally in patient safety initiatives. He currently serves as chief patient safety officer at the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute. Read Dr. Murphy’s profile.
“First, do no harm.” It’s one of the fundamental principles of medicine, and one that healthcare providers take seriously.
Unfortunately, mistakes happen. According to a study published this spring in the British Medical Journal, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer. We need to prevent errors from harming our patients.
Many healthcare organizations say patient safety is a priority. Yet their procedures and administrative structures don’t always back that up. At Inova, we’re taking concrete steps to practice what we preach when it comes to keeping our patients safe.
Teaming Up For Patient Safety
Before joining Inova, I was the associate chief patient safety officer for the Duke University Health System. During that time, Duke was one of six national training centers for a program called TeamSTEPPS. The program improves communication and teamwork skills among healthcare professionals to improve patient safety.
An increasing number of studies are showing that TeamSTEPPS training improves teamwork and outcomes for patients. As a result, hospitals nationwide are beginning to implement the program. This year, we’ve started rolling out TeamSTEPPS throughout Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Improving Communication, Improving Care
Outstanding communication is critical to ensuring patient safety. We’re introducing several important strategies to improve the way our healthcare providers communicate. Those include:
- Briefings. At the beginning of every shift, team members come together to get up to speed on what’s happening, such as how many beds are filled, how many patients are scheduled to be moved or discharged and any special information that needs to be shared. This creates a shared “mental model” – or shared thought process – for our team.
- Huddles. Just like the Redskins huddle up before a play, we want our healthcare providers to come together to make a plan when shifting gears or making important decisions. If several seriously ill patients show up to the ER at once, for example, the team can huddle to figure out how best to deploy resources.
- Closed-loop communication. Have you ever sent an email that went unanswered and wondered if your recipient even saw it? We close the communication loop by repeating instructions back to confirm that the message was received correctly.
- Debriefings. At the end of a shift or an event, our teams talk about what went well – and just as importantly, what didn’t. For instance, a team in the intensive care unit recently needed equipment to open a patient’s airway. One of the pieces of the equipment wasn’t in place, causing a delay. At the debriefing, the team identified the problem and implemented steps to make sure all the necessary pieces were ready to go at all times.
Making Safety a Priority
We’re excited to be teaching the TeamSTEPPS program to healthcare teams in all departments across Inova Fairfax Hospital. Already more than a thousand staff members have started attending the trainings. Great teamwork and communication support our journey to preventing errors and improving care for our patients.
I’m proud that Inova Fairfax is emerging as a leader in patient safety. Learn more about the Inova Fairfax Medical Campus.