Q: How do you rate the impact of To Err is Human on the medical industry as a whole?
Dr. Cassel: The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, five years after the IOM report, said we hadn’t made enough progress. We have, most importantly, been able to talk about it and understand some of the approaches to safety and quality. But that’s not nearly enough, in my opinion.
Dr. Berwick: I’d give it a C-minus. There has been a change in awareness of medical safety. Before the IOM report, you just didn’t hear about it. A scientific basis for the statement of the problem was created, and we can never go back. Prototypes of what could be achieved have started to emerge, not just in this country but worldwide. The problem is that the success is just in pockets—not fundamental change in the nature of the American healthcare industry. That level of execution just is not there yet. Now it’s game time—time to take safety and quality mainstream.
Q: In retrospect, what was missed in the report?
Dr. Berwick: If we missed any boat in our analysis, the idea of “no blame” is not meant to relieve everyone of responsibility for medical errors, but to relocate responsibility for safety in the offices and work of leaders of healthcare institutions. The finger points to the executive suite. There’s more and more evidence that safety does not improve without the clear commitment of leaders.
Dr. Cassel: When we think about how we train doctors, which I spend a lot of time doing, they just aren’t trained to think of root-cause analysis or how to work in teams to reduce errors. That needs to change. ABIM’s new pathway for hospitalists, which will be rolled out in another year or so (see “A-Plus Achievement,” p. 1), treats questions of how … to identify patient-safety issues as core knowledge.
Q: What is the relationship of the patient-safety movement to the hospitalist movement?
Dr. Cassel: The development and growth of patient safety has paralleled the growth of hospital medicine, and I think that’s a good thing. Most of the literature on available errors focuses on the hospital because that’s the easiest place to find numbers of patients and shine a light on safety. Specialists in hospital medicine have a unique opportunity and responsibility to be leaders in continuing to advance the cause of patient safety.
Q: What should HM’s patient-safety agenda look like going forward?
Dr. Berwick: No. 1, aim for zero. There are types of injuries and infections that can be nearly eliminated in the hospital. When you look at safety-oriented efforts in other industries, they strive to get to the point where they’re no longer talking about ratios, only numerators (how many actual incidents).
Second is to broaden the focus from safety to all the other dimensions of quality. Think about reliability, processes and performance across the board.
Third is to be authentic about teamwork across professions. In the medical culture at large, there still is too much focus on turf issues between doctors and nurses. I believe in the long run new safety initiatives will be fostered by teams working at unprecedented levels of collaboration, reaching across traditional boundaries.
Dr. Cassel: The issue of diagnostic error is also emerging as another kind of medical error.
In order for patients to get the right treatment, they need to get the right diagnosis. That’s where all of your medical training, knowledge, and judgment come into play. For ABIM, that’s how we evaluate physicians’ judgment.