To persuade the public and lawmakers that Washington does not need to regulate hospital quality, the American Hospital Association has begun a makeover for the industry, starting with itself.
The goal is to demonstrate that the industry strongly desires to improve quality and that self-policing is the best means to that lofty end.
`'We've been doing this of our own initiative, not because of any outside pressure," said Don Nielsen, M.D., the AHA's senior vice president for quality leadership. `'We've been focused on this issue."
But consumer advocates doubt the effort is more than skin deep.
"I think the AHA is just running for cover," said Mike Donio, director of projects for the People's Medical Society, an Allentown, Pa.-based patient advocacy group. "(AHA President) Dick Davidson is jumping out in front now, but where was he in 1988, when we first reported all these problems?"
The AHA's board approved an "action plan" last week at its annual meeting in Washington. The plan calls for the AHA to work with its members, nurses, risk managers and outside experts to develop a proposal for reporting medical errors that is "nonpunitive and addresses public concerns," according to an AHA position paper.
Congress is debating whether reporting such errors should be voluntary or mandatory (See story above).
The AHA also wants to develop an accountability checklist to help member hospitals assess and improve quality performance and discuss their record with their communities.
To highlight its new quality efforts, the AHA gave a special award to its new partner in reducing medication errors, the Huntingdon Valley, Pa.-based Institute of Safe Medication Practices.
In December, the AHA announced that the not-for-profit institute was developing a self-assessment tool that AHA member hospitals could use to better prevent medication errors, the most common kind of medical errors (Dec. 13, 1999, p. 3).
To back up its quality focus, the AHA recently shifted some internal personnel.
Mary Mologne and Tom Granitir, who had been working with the AHA's Health Forum, were reassigned to new positions on the association's quality team. Mologne is director of accountability and quality initiatives, and Granitir is director of patient safety. Mologne is based in Washington, and Granitir is in Chicago. The two will report to Nielsen.
The AHA has taken other steps on the quality front. For example, a new column debuted last month in the AHA News, the association's weekly newsletter. Called "Prescriptions for Safety," the column offers a forum for hospitals to exchange ideas about reducing medication errors and to get advice from experts.