Teamwork and Technology to Create a Safer Hospital: Parallels between the Hospital and Other “Mission Critical” Teams

Charles Cowles, Anesthesiologist and Chief Perioperative Safety Officer (MD Anderson Cancer Center) has leveraged his experience as a firefighter and exposure to other industries to discuss how hospitals can build on their patient safety committees taking a departmental team approach. As more medical errors are reported, Dr Cowles noted the severity of preventable errors with a study of Medicare patients, 1 in 7 (13.5%) experienced at least one serious event that prolonged hospital stay. Additional 13.5% had event with less serious harm. To be more precise, medical errors would be the #3 cause of deaths in the United States, right behind heart disease and cancer.

Dr. Cowles emphasizes leveraging you best talent, which is your staff. Taking a team work approach to patient safety is not only effective, it also a conduit to better communication since team members bond and speak up about concerns or ideas that may never reach the committee. He discusses attributes to look for in a team leader and the important of department level drills that are practiced on a routine basis to reinforce current knowledge and provide a training exercise for new staff.

At MD Anderson, Dr. Cowles has implemented both big and small patient safety initiatives. During a department drill one of his team was told to evacuate to another building/ floor only to find out the elevator they tried to use could not accommodate a patient bed. That led to surveying each elevator in his facility and identifying (and clearly marking) elevators that cannot fit a patient bed.

Last but not least he discussed how department level team members can play a role in staff meetings and day to day operations, yielding feedback from staff which may not reach the committee level. This proactive communication can be very valuable and a solution can be discussed in a timely matter. Teams can then share there results with the main committee during their standard meeting times.

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